In a commendable and courageous judgment, the Kerala High Court just recently on July 1, 2020 in Jana Samparka Samithy Vs State of Kerala in Case No. : WP(C). No. 27148 of 2015 has minced no words to make it unmistakably clear that the State Government has a duty to ensure well-being, life and liberty of migrant workers also. The State Government cannot abdicate this onerous responsibility under any circumstances. All the State Governments must always pay heed to this what the Kerala High Court has held so elegantly, effectively and eloquently!
To start with, the ball is set rolling in para 1 of this latest, landmark and extremely laudable judgment authored by Justice Shaji P Chaly of Kerala High Court and its Chief Justice S Manikumar wherein it is observed that, “W.P.(C) No. 23724 of 2016 is a Public Interest Litigation suo motu registered by this Court on 17.06.2016 on the basis of the common judgment in W.P.(C) Nos. 31925 of 2015 and 15370 of 2016 of a learned single judge of this court portraying the pathetic conditions of migrant labourers in the Labour Camps situated within the State of Kerala. As per the judgment in W.P.(C) No. 31925 of 2015, the Secretary of the Vadavucode Puthencruz Grama Panchayat was directed to seal the buildings of the respondents in the said writ petition, and the District Administration along with the Local Self Government Institutions were directed to take immediate steps to avert nuisance caused by the property, remove the contaminants and restore it to ensure safe habitation of the nearby residents. Other requisite directions were also issued. One of the directions was to the District Collector, Ernakulam to depute an Officer sufficiently senior in the hierarchy to conduct an inspection of the premises and close down the labour camp by providing alternate facilities for accommodating the migrant labourers and collect samples from the well water and to conduct analysis of the same. Since we found that the captioned writ petitions have intrinsic connection, we heard them together on agreement.”
To be sure, it is then stated in para 2 that, “The learned single Judge, taking into account the social ramifications emerged out of the specific instance brought before it in the writ petition, has directed as per an order dated 20.06.2016 to place the judgment before the then Acting Chief Justice requesting to take a decision as to whether a suo motu Public Interest Litigation was to be initiated, along with a memo filed by the learned Government Pleader in W.P. (C) No. 31925 of 2015 and the report of the District Collector with the photographs taken at the time of inspection. It was accordingly that the suo motu proceedings started. Thereafter, as per the order dated 18.07.2016, a Division Bench of this Court impleaded the Kerala State Legal Services Authority represented by its Member Secretary as an additional respondent in the writ petition, in addition to the State, its various Departments, District Collector, Ernakulam, an official of the Labour Department, public sector undertakings like Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, Indian Rare Earths Limited, Hindustan Organic Chemicals Ltd. etc. The member Secretary of KELSA was also directed to allot the suo motu case to Smt. Parvathy Sanjay, and with her consent she was appointed as amicus curiae on behalf of the Kerala State Legal Services Authority.”
While continuing in the same vein, it is then specified in para 3 that, “Thereafter, this Court was issuing periodical directions to the respondents as well as the amicus curiae to submit reports so as to issue directions to the State Government and the officials to take appropriate steps to protect the interest of the migrant labourers. The Secretary of KELSA has filed various reports before this Court pointing out the deficiencies existing in the labour camps, and the deplorable conditions of life of the migrant labourers who have been working in various establishments, especially at Perumbavoor, Ernakulam District where they were employed by the Plywood Manufacturers. Along with the report, KELSA as well as the amicus curiae have produced photographs, which would speak in volumes the pathetic condition under which the migrant labourers were living and the difficulties faced by them due to lack of facilities. To combat these issues suggestions were also placed before this Court.”
Be it noted, it is then envisaged in para 4 that, “The amicus curiae has also produced before this Court emergent reports taking into account the urgent actions to be taken and also seeking appropriate directions to the State as well as the other authorities. Likewise, taking into account the report of the amicus curiae, directions were issued to the public sector undertakings who were found to be the principal employers. The report also demonstrated the unhygienic conditions, and the poor maintenance of the bathroom and toilets in labour camps. Pollution problems were also reported to be persisting in the labour camps, however consequent to the successive orders issued by this Court, steps were taken by the authorities and the public sector undertakings to abate the nuisance. Steps were also taken to decongest the labour camps consequent to such reports. The Panchayat as well as the other authorities were also given the liberty to inspect each of the labour camps and take appropriate decisions so as to ensure only a minimum number of labourers residing in such labour camps. In fact, on the basis of the report that there was exploitation of the migrant labourers, appropriate directions were issued by this Court, and due to the constant and frequent reports of KELSA, statement filed by the Government and its officials, as also the report of the amicus curiae, and the consequent monitoring by this court, many of the problems that were faced by those migrant labourers could be curbed and other situations were also able to be regulated to a considerable and satisfactory extent. While continuing so, situations have arisen due to the lock-down restrictions on account of the pandemic, Covid-19 vis-à-vis the difficulties faced by the migrant labourers. Due to the closure of the business establishments and the factories, the migrant labourers were faced with various difficulties, including loss of employment and situations with respect to their day-to-day affairs. Thereupon, on the basis of the reports submitted by the KELSA and the amicus curiae, clarifications were sought by this Court from the Government and its officials and after considering the rival submissions, directions were being issued to sort out the difficulties faced by the migrant labourers. In fact, such reports filed by the KELSA and the amicus curiae were extending help to the State Government and its officials to identify the issues specifically, and to take urgent steps to abate the nuisances confronted by the migrant labourers, and also to alleviate the difficulties faced by them due to the unemployment, and the consequential unrest generated.”
To say the least, it is then elucidated in para 14 that, “After hearing the learned counsel for the petitioner in the said writ petition, learned Sr. Government Pleader, Sri Surin George Ipe, and the learned amicus curiae Smt. Parvathy Sanjay representing the KELSA, we are of the view that the writ petition can be disposed of with appropriate directions taking into account the present situations prevailing in the State of Kerala. Needless to say, the State Government is duty bound to protect the health and welfare of the migrant workers in accordance with the mandate contained under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and the obligations and duties contained under the directive principles which are fundamental in the governance of the State and also the fundamental duties imbibed in every citizens under Article 51-A of the Constitution of India.”
As a corollary, it is also then said in para 15 that, “On a conjoint reading of the said provisions of the Constitution of India, we are of the view that, the State has an onerous duty to ensure the well being and life and liberty of every citizen, which includes the migrant workers also.”
On the face of it, what is then further underscored in para 16 is that, “Therefore, the State Government has a duty to ensure that the employers are providing appropriate shelter to the migrant workers, a clean environment and a healthy living condition with sufficient ventilation, light etc. along with other basic amenities. It is also the duty of the State Government to see that employers are satisfying the requirements in accordance with the prevailing laws with respect to the wages, contribution to welfare funds etc. of the migrant labourers. So also, adequate measures shall be taken for curbing ill-treatment of the labourers in any manner, by the employers.”
Going forward, it is then stated in para 17 that, “In that view of the matter, there will be a direction to the State Government to ensure that the life and liberty of the migrants labourers are protected envisioned by the framers of the Constitution of India and bearing in mind the responsibilities and the fundamental duties and obligations of the State Government in doing so. If any information is received by the State Government and its officials in respect of any ill-treatment of the migrant labourers from any responsible corners, quick action shall be taken for ensuring their well being and life and liberty. It is also made clear that if any of the migrant labourers expressed his intention to go back to his native State, adequate steps shall be taken by the State Government through its Offices to ensure return of such migrant workers subject to the lockdown restrictions and consequential SOPs issued by the respective Governments. So also, the Government shall always be watchful to ensure that no forcible detention are made by the employers of any migrant workers so as to cause any prejudice to the migrants, and if any such action on the part of the employers are noted by the Government, adequate steps shall be taken to initiate appropriate action against such persons. We also make it clear that the State Government is at liberty to implement the suggestions in Ext. P1 report in W.P.(C) No. 23724 of 2016, if they are genuinely required to improve the health and welfare of the migrant labourers.”
In essence, this latest, landmark and extremely laudable judgment by a two Judge Bench of the Kerala High Court very rightly accords the topmost priority to the well-being, life and liberty of migrant workers also who always render their invaluable contribution in State’s development in all spheres as we have already dwelt in detail. It enjoins upon the Kerala State Government to ensure that the same is protected always! The Kerala State Government and its officials must comply with accordingly with the directions stated in the judgment without fail! There can be no denying or disputing it!