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Response of Judiciary to India’s Migrant Crisis During Lockdown

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Mingrant labourers crisis in India and indian judiciary

Shimla-Judiciary has a duty to make the Government accountable for the conditions that migrant workers are facing today. In a series of articles, we will be going through the response of Indian Judiciary to the present Migrant Crisis. In the first of these series, we go through two important directions of the Patna High Court to the Government, which can help in elevating the condition of the Migrant Workers who are the victims of the present lockdown.

Patna High Court this month acknowledged the seriousness of this crisis and passed two important Orders which are marked by empathy for the plight of the present victims.

In one of the order, it has sought a reply from the Bihar government on a petition alleging ‘poor condition of quarantine centres’ in the state where migrant workers have been mandated to stay for three weeks upon their return from other parts of the country. In the other order, it has urged the State Government to reconsider its policy of not engaging with members of civil society in handling the COVID-19 crisis.

Order regarding the poor condition of quarantine centres

(C.W.P No.5656 of 2020)

A Division Bench headed by Hon’ble Chief Justice Sanjay Karol directed the state government to file its reply, noting with concern that Bihar has the “highest population density” in the country and “any mismanagement” at the quarantine centers could lead to a substantial increase in the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

Order Stated:

“From the record, it can be inferred that perhaps in the State of Bihar, more than 2450 quarantine centres stand established by the Disaster Management Department, in anticipation of housing 2.5 lakhs persons, termed as migrants, who are desirous of returning home. Perhaps the figure may be more. Such quarantine centres are to be established and managed as per the guidelines for quarantine facilities framed by the Government of India. There has to be proper segregation of the areas, prominently labelled as low risk, moderate risk and high risk areas. The entry and exit points of the said centres are required to be secured properly, with proper facilities of sanitation etc. Any mis-management in proper handling of such centres may result into the spread and/or increase of the disease in Bihar.

..The relevance, significance and importance of ensuring proper sanitization, cleanliness and orderliness at the Centres is highly imperative, more so looking into the economic condition, demography and population of Bihar. Today, 1/10th of the population of India lives in Bihar with highest density of population ratio. Hence the need, all the more, for monitoring the centres directly by senior level officer(s) at the level of the Government and with a greater vigil.

..In the response, it be categorically stated, in a tabulated form, district-wise, (a) the number of quarantine centres established in the State of  Bihar; (b) number of persons (migrants) housed therein; (c) number of persons who have been allowed to return to their respective places of destination after expiry of the mandatory period of quarantine;  (d) total number of persons (migrants), who are further expected to enter the State of Bihar; (e) the capacity of centres to house such persons; (f) whether provision for security, sanitation and food exists at each one of such centre or not; (g) whether such facility stands outsourced or is being provided  or sought to be provided directly by the employees of the State; (h) whether there is a provision for providing medical aid/facilities; and (i) mechanism for lodging complaints and its redressal.”

Direction for engaging members of civil society in the fight against Corona Virus.

(C.W.P No.5609 of 2020)

A division bench headed by Justice Sanjay Karol in another order observed that “in a democratic society, the Civil Society cannot be ignored”, Order Stated:

“Well, at this stage, we need not say anything further, save and except, that the role of Civil Society, be it in the form of individuals/ CSOs/NGOs, in helping the orphans; elderly persons; and specially challenged persons, cannot be undermined. Public and private participation to overcome natural disasters and adversities is not alien to the culture and heritage of this great nation. Also Practices and teachings of Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira are well entrenched in the State of Bihar. One cannot forget the importance and significance of the Directives Principles of State Policy, Part IV, (Article 39) and Part IV-A Fundamental duties, more specifically, (Article 51-A (h)) of the Constitution of India, while dealing with the problems arising out of the Pandemic Corona Virus (COVID-19).

We are also of the view that for centralized monitoring of the problems faced by the sectors mentioned above and the relief provided/action taken, technology be used. Perhaps, a Website, to be operated at the level of the Government of Bihar can be opened up where any member of the Society (organized or un-organized) wanting to help the Government or the citizenry, in whatever manner, be it in the form of material or human resources, can register their request and the same dealt with promptly by a duly authorized competent and a responsible officer. We only hope that the Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar shall have part of this order implemented latest by day-after-tomorrow, 29.04.2020.”

List of verified NGOs, charities and private institutions, which are working on the ground:

  1. safaindia.org
  2. cjp.org.in
  3. parikrmahumanityfoundation.org
  4. feedingindia.org/donate
  5. kashtakaripanchayat.org
  6. robinhoodarmy.com
  7. https://goonj.org/support-covid-19-affected
  8. fdci.org or write to them at [email protected]seedsindia.org/covid19/
  9. https://tinyurl.com/ydgmfpcm
(The post was first published in https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/ )

Deven Khanna is a Lawyer, practicing at High Court of Himachal Pradesh, other H.P Courts/Tribunals and the Supreme Court of India, he is an alumnus of a National Law School. For any queries related to the articles, he can be contacted at 7018469792 or at [email protected] The personal blog is at https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/

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Farmers Welcome SC Order to Stay Implementation of Farm Laws But Suspicious About Formation of Committee

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the implementation of three contentious farm laws passed by the Centre Government, which has led to huge protest from hundreds of farmer groups. The stay implies that the Centre Government can’t take any executive actions based on these laws till further order. 

“The implementation of the three farm laws (1) Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; (2) Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020; and (3) Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, shall stand stayed until further orders,”

said the order passed by a panel headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A Bobde on Tuesday.

Further, the MSP system would continue as it was before the enactment of the laws.

“As a consequence, the Minimum Support Price System in existence before the enactment of the Farm Laws shall be maintained until further orders. In addition, the farmers’ land holdings shall be protected, i.e., no farmer shall be dispossessed or deprived of his title as a result of any action taken under the Farm Laws,”

the order said.

With this order, the SC hoped to end the ongoing impasse over the contentious farm laws.

The farmers who have been protesting for over the last 45 days, welcomed the SC’s order.

However, at the same time, the Apex Court ordered the formation of a committee to listen to both sides and make recommendations to the court. The committee, which would comprise of Agriculture economist Ashok Gulati, Bhupinder Singh Mann, Dr Prmod Kumar Joshi, former director of National Academy of Agricultural Research Management), and Anil Ghanwat from Shetkari Sangathan, was asked to submit its report in the court within two months.

The CJI, in its order, speaking about the purpose of this “extraordinary” order, said,

“While we may not stifle a peaceful protest, we think that this extraordinary order of stay of implementation of the farm laws will be perceived as an achievement of the purpose of such protest at least for the present and will encourage the farmers’ bodies to convince their members to get back to their livelihood, both in order to protect their own lives and health and in order to protect the lives and properties of others.”

Though a stay on the implementation of laws was welcomed by protesting farmers, several unions said that they would not accept this committee and the protest will continue. They said the Government is trying to form this committee through the Supreme Court. This committee, they said, included persons who have already been justifying the farm laws. They said the purpose of this committee is nothing more than creating a diversion. The protest would be armed up and only a repeal of laws would be accepted, the unions said. 

At the same time, the SC was undeterred with these statements and said there is nothing that can stop it from forming a committee. The SC asked the farmers to cooperate with the committee.

On the other hand, the Government was more concerned about that other political parties would think of the stay as a “political victory”.

Further, the Government has also expressed apprehension about security breach due to the tractor rally planned by protesting farmers on the Republic Day.

K.K. Venugopal, Attorney General, told the court that there are reports that the farmers’ bodies may take out a tractor rally on January 26, 2021, disrupting the Republic Day Parade and celebrations However, the same was stoutly denied by Dushyant Dave, learned senior counsel appearing for a few of the farmers’ bodies on the ground that at least one member of the family of each of the farmers from Punjab is in the Army and that they would not disrupt the Republic Day celebrations.

The Court, in its order, said that several rounds of talked between farmers and the Government have failed and there was no solution in sight.

“The situation on ground is: (i) that senior citizens, women and children are at site, exposing themselves to serious health hazards posed by cold and covid; (ii) that a few deaths have taken place, though not out of any violence, but either out of illness or by way of suicide,”

the order said.

The court also lauded the farmers for carrying on the agitation peacefully without any unwanted incident.

Further, the Court orders also mentioned separate petitions filed by individuals/residents of the NCR complaining of blockade of roads/highways leading to Delhi and terming it an infringement of the fundamental rights of other citizens to move freely and to carry out trade and business.

Stay on 3 Farm Laws and Formation of Committee: Read Full Order of Supreme Court

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Inflation, Increased Cost of Food Items, Ration, Crumbling Health Infrastructure, and 100 Gram Sugar: Govt’s Diwali Gift to People

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hp govt's gift on diwali 2020

Shimla-The Himachal Pradesh Government has collected over Rs. 86 crores in the name of the COVID-19 relief fund, but only Rs 25 crore was spent. It was stated by Sanjay Chauhan, former Mayor of Shimla and a senior CPI (M) leader. It’s a shocker considering negligible relief measures and the state of health infrastructure crumbling amid a pandemic. The unpreparedness of the state government to deal with community spread of coronavirus is coming to light as its COVID-19 hospitals have begun to run out of beds in isolation wards. Two major medical facilities -Indira Gandhi Medical College & Hospital and DDU Hospital in Shimla- are packed to their full capacity. 

What’s not shocking is that Chief Minister did hail the Prime Minister, exactly as he was told, claiming that the nation is out of COVID-19 crisis. It suggests that the Chief Minister is little aware of the surge in cases and over 400 COVID-19 deaths, of which 93 were reported during the last 12 days of November month. Yesterday, the state has reported over 700 cases with six deaths, which is alarming.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi deserves all praise for his dynamic leadership as he is successfully steering the Country amid all troubles and difficulties. He has successfully brought the Nation out of Covid-19 crisis,” 

said Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, while addressing a public meeting at Sihunta under Bhatiyat Assembly Constituency on Wednesday. 

Talking about the real situation and relief measures, the state Government became a laughingstock and was being trolled on social media after it announced 100 gram sugar and 500-gram rice per person to all ration cardholders as a Diwali gift. If that was not enough, according to a media report, this quota has still not reached the depots. There is a possibility that it would reach the cardholders only after Diwali.

The reason behind this backlash is not only that 100-gram sugar is too trivial to be called a gift or relief, especially amid a pandemic when common people, especially those falling in middle and lower-income groups, are faced with unemployment and economic crisis.

While the people were hoping for relief from their elected government, inflation was on the rise. Currently, prices of food items including vegetables and other essential commodities have also witnessed a huge increase. Further, cut in subsidy on electricity, hike in bus fare, increase in property tax, rise in diesel and petrol prices etc. have put additional burden on the commoners. 

Then there were other issues like relaxation in garbage collection fee for the period of lockdown. Sadly, the public did not get any relief even in garbage bills despite staging protests. 

Meanwhile, Ministers made news for spending tax money on buying luxury vehicles and VIP numbers. 

Oppositions, Congress and CPI (M) have also targeted the government over its failure to provide any considerable relief to the people when it’s most needed. As per oppositions, the current government has no control over the market or inflation.

Chauhan also raised the issue of thousands of vacant posts of doctors, para-medical staff, nurses etc. at medical facilities across the state. He said that of the total 1000 posts of lab technicians, 700 were still vacant. He said that the government did not prepare for a community spread despite having a time of eight months during the lockdowns. It was due to this lackadaisical attitude of the government that currently IGMC and DDU hospitals have run out of space in isolation wards, he said.

He also said that, in an all-party meeting convened on March 21, CPI(M) had given the government 12 recommendations to effectively deal with the situation. The party had suggested that thousands of vacant posts should be filled at the earliest, all government buildings construction of which were completed should be prepared to accommodate COVID-19 patients. Similarly, at least four blocks of the under-construction building of IGMC should also be equipped with facilities to accommodate patients, the party had suggested. 

On November 8, 2020, the state unit of Mahila Congress staged a protest over a huge increase in prices of food items. They wore garlands of potatoes and onions and marched from the party headquarter to the Office of Deputy Commissioner, Shimla. Women alleged that the people have received no relief despite such a huge crisis. Instead, the current government is encouraging hoarding of essentials.

The opposition also said that the government has increased the rate of cereals provided through the public distribution system. This increase is Rs 5 for cereals and Rs. 9 for mustard oil. Vegetable prices have gone beyond Rs 50 during the festival season. It also said that the registration fees of vehicles have also been increased.

Sanjay Chauhan is of the view that to provide relief, the government should deposit at least Rs 7500 in the accounts of consumers and provide them with 10 kg ration per person for free.

He also said that recently the government has hiked the charges for electricity and installation of meters. The government has now withdrawn its notification restricting schools to charge only tuition fee and allowed them to charge full fees, including those pending for the period of lockdown, he said. This decision has come as a huge financial burden for parents and is causing mental harassment. 

The policies of the current government are only benefiting corporates, while other sections like labourers/daily wagers, small scale industries and businesses, shopkeepers, farmers are faced with financial crisis and unemployment due to lockdowns imposed in view of corona pandemic, Chauhan said. 

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Exam Fees in Govt Schools Hiked Amid Pandemic, Private Schools Allowed to Charge Full Fees Relaxed During Lockdowns

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himachal pradesh - private school fees during lockdowns

Shimla-Amid the pandemic and economic slowdown, the public had hoped for relief from the government; unfortunately, they are only receiving more financial burdens in form of hikes in bus fares, cut in electricity subsidy etc. Now, the Himachal Pradesh Board of School Education (HPBOSE) has decided to implement hike in examination fees on the students of government schools.

A student of class 10 will now pay Rs 600 as examination fee instead of the previous Rs 500. For the students of class 12, this fee has been hiked to Rs 850. Read complete notification below:

Another bad news for parents came after the government, citing orders of the State High Court, allowed private schools to charge all fees which were deferred during the lockdowns. Moreover, in its previous notification, the Directorate of Higher Education had only mentioned deferring the fee, and not waiving it of. This decision has led to distress among parents because pending fees of some of the schools would go in lakhs.

Also Read: Himachal: Private Schools Only Asked to Defer Fees During Lockdown, Not to Waive Off, Thanks to Helpless Edu Minister

Private schools are not funded by the government and they depend entirely on fees to meet their expenditures, the government said.  The state government had directed the schools to not cut salaries of teachers or fire them during lockdowns. However, despite the pandemic, the state government did not consider compensating these institutes. Similarly, bus fares were also hiked instead of compensating transporters.

Earlier, the state government had yielded to the pressure from parents to relax all fees except tuition fees as the educational institutes were closed and no facilities were availed by the students.

Further, it’s pertinent to mention that the Ministers of the state government are making headlines for allegedly wasting money on buying luxuries with the public tax money. Recently, Education Minister Govind Singh Thakur remained in news for buying a luxury vehicle amid pandemic even though he already had a Fortuner. Prior to that, the IPH Department has been in news for buying not only an SUV for a XEN but also purchasing a VIP number for Rs. 1 lakh.

At the same time, huge wastage of money was seen during the commissioning of the Rohtang Tunnel on publicity to claim the credit. Large hoardings with the faces of CM Jairam Thakur and PM Narender Modi can still be seen throughout the state publicizing commissioning of the Tunnel. Money was spent on installing LEDs across the state to live telecast the event. There is distress among the people over the debate that, amid pandemic, this money could have been used to provide the public with some relief, but instead, the government seems to be insensitive enough to put personal interest first.

Earlier, the government had hiked vehicle registration fee and cut electricity subsidy to generate resources. The vehicle registration fee was increased to 7-10% of the existing 2.5-4% in June.

Feature Photo: [email protected]

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