Justice N. Kirubakaran of the Madras High Court on Friday wondered how the Centre can tell Parliament that it had no data on migrant workers who lost lives and jobs during the lockdown to fight COVID-19 when their deaths on railway tracks and travel inside concrete mixer trucks had been widely reported in the media.
The judge raised the question to Additional Solicitor-General R. Shankaranarayanan during the hearing of a case in which he had, on May 16, said it was difficult to hold tears on seeing the pathetic condition of migrant labourers and directed the Centre to disclose the number of labourers who died on their way to native States.
On Friday, the ASG sought two more weeks to comply with orders passed by the court on May 16. Immediately, Justice Kirubakaran broached the subject of the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment having informed the Lok Sabha on Monday that it had not maintained any data on the number of labourers who died or lost jobs.
“How can such a statement be made on the floor of Parliament? You should have obtained details from all State governments,” the judge told the ASG who said that he could understand the empathy of the court to the plight of migrant workers and pleaded for time to obtain instructions on the issue from the Ministry.
Mr. Shankaranarayanan said a recent study had found that 52% of labour population in Tamil Nadu was from outside the State. Women from West Bengal were engaged even for agricultural work in Thanjavur, he said forcing the judge to remark that most people in the State had become lazy due to freebies and liquor culture.
The case before the Division Bench had been filed by advocate A.P. Suryaprakasam who claimed that the State government had reportedly spent ₹146 crore for transportation of migrant labourers to their home States and hence it must be directed to explain details of the expenditure. After hearing all of them, the judge adjourned the case by two weeks.