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New Delhi:

The Supreme Court on Friday sought response from Centre on a PIL filed by activists Harsh Mander and Anjali Bhardwaj seeking directions to the Centre and state governments to ensure payments of minimum wages to all migrant workers within a week, amid the nationwide lockdown due to coronavirus outbreak.

A bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta after hearing advocate Prashant Bhushan asked the Centre to file a response by April 7. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta raised objections to the PIL. “These PIL shops should close down. Genuine people are helping people on the ground. Sitting in air-conditioned rooms and filing PILs will not help”, Mehta contended before the bench.

The judges observed they are concerned about the plight of the workers amid this period of crisis. Bhushan argued that several migrant workers are facing difficulties, despite government orders. Bhushan argued that contractors must pay full wages, but they have not done so far.

Mander had moved the Supreme Court claiming the 21-day lockdown had unleashed an unprecedented humanitarian crisis on the migrant workers and sought direction from the Supreme Court for the Centre and state governments to ensure payments of minimum wages to all migrant workers within a week.

Mander also sought a direction to immediately activate National and State Advisory Committees of experts in the field of disaster management and public health and prepare national and state disaster management plans for dealing with the COVID epidemic. “The current lockdown has cast an unprecedented economic hardship on daily wage earners. It is submitted that the Central and State Authorities have the necessary power and consequential duty to direct that all daily wage earners be provided with their wages at the place where they are currently present under the lockdown”, the plea contended.

The petition also said that the Disaster Management Act obliges the Centre and state governments to put in place a detailed plan and machinery for dealing with and mitigating the effects of disasters and obliges them to take all steps required to help the victims of disasters whether direct or indirect in accordance with the plan.

Mander contended the unplanned and sudden lockdown led to loss of jobs and money for migrant workers, and also curtailed access to food and shelter. “The government must thus ensure that the wages are paid to migrant workers at the place that they are presently located during the lockdown, whether in their home state or in shelter homes or in the state where they had migrated to before the lockdown”, said the plea.

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