New Delhi, July 15 :
The Supreme Court Tuesday slammed the Odisha government for turning a blind eye to the plight of migrant workers being taken to other states by unscrupulous contractors or middlemen on the promise of good jobs but who were exploited and living in sub-human conditions.
The court described the situation in Odisha regarding the plight of migrant workers as “andhergardhi”.
A bench of Justice T.S. Thakur, Justice C. Nagappan and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said this as the Odisha government confirmed a report of the chopping off of the hands of two migrant workers from the state by a brick kiln contractor in Andhra Pradesh.
The court had Jan 27 taken suo motu cognizance of a newspaper report about the chopping off of the workers’ hands.
The report said an Andhra Pradesh-based labour contractor and his four henchmen allegedly chopped off the hands of the two migrant workers in December 2013 after they refused to work in a brick kiln in Chhattisgarh.
The court asked the Odisha government if the labour contractor who took the workers was unlicenced, and as it was a cognizable offence, what was the action taken by it.
“There is a possibility of a larger exploitation of the poor people. You don’t need to wait for newspaper reports to act,” the court said.
“What kind of country are we living in? This kind of things don’t happen even in most primitive societies,” Justice Thakur said.
“The question is what action has been taken, or whether this law (The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979) is a dead letter in the state of Odisha,” he observed.
Frowning over the insensitivity with which the state machinery was implementing the welfare laws for workers, the court said: “There must be a machinery to check all this.”
Taking note of the submission that every year, nearly two lakh workers were going out of Odisha’s six districts – Koraput, Bolangir, Kalahandi, Bargarh, Naupada and Malkangiri – the court wondered why conditions have not improved there.
The court directed the state government to file an affidavit giving details of the long-term and short-term action plans it has put in place to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, including the exploitation of migrant workers by middlemen or contractors.
The court also sought information on whether in pursuance of the statutory provisions the inspectors carried out any checks. If so, what action has been taken on the complaints or non-compliance of statutory provisions by the contractors taking workers out of the state. The court sought an action taken report.
The court also sought a report on any study carried out in the six districts.
“If no such survey/study has been undertaken, then the same be conducted expeditiously by the district commissioner within three months,” it said.
The court also asked the member secretary of the State Legal Service Authority to visit the six districts for an on-the-spot assessment and submit a report.
The court also asked the secretary of the Andhra Pradesh State Legal Service Authority to visit the brick kiln in Ranga Reddy district and report on the working conditions there.
The court was informed that the victim workers were given medical treatment and also compensation with a recommendation to the Centre to give then additional compensation of Rs.4 lakh each.
The court was told that besides Rs.2 lakh given to the victims, another Rs.5 lakh each was given. They have received Rs.3.75 lakh and a balance of Rs.1.25 lakh remains.
The court directed that the balance amount should be paid as soon as possible.