The world wide spread of COVID 19 from China was unforeseeable, so as the crisis
of migrant workers in India. After the first 21 days lock down which was imposed
on 24 March 2020, the fourth lock down has started. Everyone is affected by the
lock down but the migrant workers have suffered the most
In India, lakhs of workers move to different states to earn money, where they do
semiskilled or unskilled jobs at low wages. Due to the complete lockdown, these
people lost their source of income and livelihood. When all the transportation
facilities were immediately halted by the government, these migrant workers were
forced to walk kilometers to return back to their Homes.
Hundreds of these unfortunate migrant workers lost their life on their way, some
due to accidents and others due to dehydration and starvation. The way in which
16 migrant workers lost their lives on the railway track depict the plight of
Rights of migrant workers
There are various provisions in the Constitution which relates to the rights of
the migrant workers. Some of them are discussed below
Article 21-Protection of life and personal liberty
Article 21 of the Constitution says that no person shall be deprived of his life
or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
Here right to life' does not means mere animal existence' as held by the court
in the case of Kharak Singh Vs state of Uttar Pradesh. The Supreme Court have
further explained the meaning of life and personal liberty in various cases .
In Maneka Gandhi v/s union of India,
the Supreme Court held that right to
life includes right to live with human dignity. Moreover, the Supreme Court
in Olga Tellis Vs Bombay municipal Corporation popularly known as pavement
dwellers case', a five judge bench of the court implied that right to
livelihood' is born out of the right to life' as no person can live without the
means of living i.e. livelihood .
Further article 39 of directive principles of state policy says that the state
shall direct its policy towards securing – that the citizens, men and women
equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood.
The international labour organisation (ILO) which is a United Nations agency is
aimed at advancing social and economic justice through setting international
labour standards. Its mandate is to ensure accessible, productive and
sustainable work worldwide in conditions of freedom, equity, security and
Apart from these, there are various labour laws in India. Some of which are
however suspended by manystates during lockdown.
Supreme Court and migrant workers
On 31 March 2020, the Supreme Court heard a petition filed by lawyer
A.A.Shrivastava seeking directions to provide food and shelter to migrant
workers wherein the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta says that over 22,80,000
people are provided food. These are needy people, migrant workers and daily
wages. They have been kept in shelter.' He also contended that no one is now on
road. Supreme Court also accepted this contention.
However the court asked the central government to ensure that basic facilities
like food, water and medicines are provided to migrant workers who are
now kept at shelter homes. But lakhs of workers can be still seen walking
barefooted on highways.
On 16th May, the Supreme Court rejected a PIL to direct the district magistrates
to identify and provide free relief and transport to the migrant workers stating
that it was the responsibility of the state governments.
High courts and migrant workers
The orders from the Madras High Court acknowledged the seriousness of the
crisis and showed empathy for their plight. On 12th May, the Karnataka High
Court directed the government to decide on paying cost of workers going back to
the villages and towns.
Gujarat High Court also took up the workers' cause suomotu and sought the
response of the government. The Uttarakhand High Court upon the hearing said
that if the migrant workers are not provided with food and livelihood now, it
may violate their fundamental rights.
On One hand, where the Supreme Court has denied its responsibility over the
issue, High Courts are continuously showing empathy for the migrant workers.
Workers are walking day and night. Those people are illiterate and cannot
understand the seriousness of the virus which increases their problem. When the
government has started a mission named VandeMatram
for the Indians who
are stuck in abroad due to lockdown, the government neglected the workers who
contribute roughly around 10% to the Indian GDP. Although some High Courts and
NGOs have showedempathy and gave their helping hand for these workers, when
will the Supreme Court intervene ??
Written By- Shreyanshi Jain
- Kharak Singh vs The State Of U. P. & Others 1963AIR 1295
- Maneka Gandhi vs Union Of India 1978 AIR 597
- Olga Tellis & Ors vs Bombay Municipal Corporation 1986 AIR 180
- Alakh Alok Srivastava vs Union of India.