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The Migrant Labour Crisis and the Dilution of Labour Laws in India

The countrywide lockdown announced on 24th of March, 2020 with an extremely short notice left thousands of migrant labourers in India in the state of a lurch. The poorly planned lockdown caused immense distress and ramified endless stream of migrant labourers from economic centres of India in the scorching heat without adequate shelter and supplies. Incidents of these migrants facing accidents and losing their lives on their journey back home on foot have unfortunately become a common phenomenon. For instance, on 8th of May, 16 migrant workers were crushed to death by a goods train near Aurangabad in Maharashtra while sleeping on a railway track fatigued by their long journey on foot on. In a different incident, six migrant workers were run over by a speeding bus in the state of Utter Pradesh.

The situation was further worsened by incompetent and unconstitutional decisions of the states Governments. Upon the announcement of the plying of the Special trains to take the migrants to their native states by the Central Government, the state of Karnataka in an appalling move cancelled these trains without any reason, and the decision was allegedly taken after the State Chief minister K.M Yediyurappa met the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI). The decision was in complete violation to the right under Article 19 (1) (d) under the Indian constitution (Right “to move freely throughout the territory of India”) and completely disregarded the personal autonomy and liberty of the migrant labourers for the economic interests of the state and was condemned as medieval barbarism by many.

It is a welcome step that National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken suo-moto cognizance of the issue after an image of a migrant woman pulling a suitcase with her sleeping child half hung on the suitcase took rounds on social media. Even though the Supreme Court has failed to effectively intervene in this humanitarian crisis to much disappointment, several High Courts have issued directions on the issue. The Madras High Court which suo-moto sought an action-taken report for the relief of migrant workers to the state and central government observed:

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