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Legal Aid in COVID times By Abhishek Naharia

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Legal Aid in COVID Times, The idea of the welfare state has changed from the times of Independence today. In the earlier days, people used to have the bare minimum for their living but now when times have changed, the idea of the welfare state looks to have changed its dimensions. In these times of hardship, when corona has hit India hard and we have crossed the 1 lakh mark and around 3000  are dead, a major issue that has gone unnoticed is the plight of the migrants.[1] A number of questions need to be addressed herein. One such question is the plight of the migrants in India, who, since the lockdown was announced Mid-March, have been pleading and asking for justice from the Government and Judiciary.

Constitutional Protection

The Constitutional Protection for the free legal Aid is given under Article 39A of the Indian Constitution.[2] It states the state shall provide free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of the society and ensure justice for all. The article mandates that the economic, or any other kind of disability in the person should not act as a bar to access to the justice and legal remedies.[3] This is how the Constitution upholds the rule of law and ensure that free legal aid is provided to every person in need.

The article holds relevance in these thriving times because post lockdown, the migrant workers have been trying to reach out to their homes as they were thrown out of the rented hoses they were living despite the fact that a number of District Administrative authorities had issued an order stating therein that nor rent should be taken from migrant workers.[4] As there is no source of earning now, there is no money left with the migrant workers, and as a result, they do not have anything to pay back for the living.

Role of the Government

The Government has a very important role to play as far as the migrant workers are concerned. Although attempts have been made in the past by the Railways for transporting migrant workers successfully to their native places.[5] If we talk about the role of an ideal state, reference can be made to Part 4 of the Constitution f India which states that the role of the state should be to secure a social order for the promotion of the welfare of the people. This then also includes providing food and shelter, free legal aid, public assistance; ensure the health of the workers and the right to work in these difficult times.[6] After all, the Government needs to understand that these poor workers cannot file public interest litigations to ask for reaching their homes in the times when they are trying to strive for the very basic necessities of life.[7]

Courts on Migrant Workers

A number of High Courts have talked about the plight of migrant workers in the recent past. Recently, the Madras High Court had shown their agony on the condition of the workers and said that this is nothing but a human tragedy. The Bench said that one cannot control the tear in their eyes while looking at the plight of these migrant workers.[8] The Bench has asked for the Centre to respond on a number of issues such as how many migrant workers have reached their place, how many migrant workers have stuck in between, how many of them have to be transported yet to their places, what are the restrictions on state borders with regard to the workers etc.[9]

How Society can Contribute

We as a society can contribute to the plight of the migrant workers in a number of ways. The basic and the first thing that can be done are to provide them with food and water. Next, what can be done is to provide them with shelter, some money and other basic facilities like healthcare. The NGO’s have a big role to play herein. These organizations which work for the welfare of the people throughout the year need to contribute to the best of their capabilities now. They can take small initiatives as already discussed above such as providing the workers with the basic necessities of life viz. food, water, shelter, money among many others.

Conclusion: Way forward

In hard times such as these, recently in Maharashtra, migrant workers were crushed to death by a train.[10] In conditions such as these when there is no way out, deaths such as these make our hearts heavy. In this do or die situation for the migrants, they have no other option but to walk in the scorching heat, barefooted, without the availability of food and water.

A number of the workers have also died during their way back to the homes, and this is the most saddening part about the state of affairs in India.[11] Conclusively, it could be said that during these times when the country is fighting with corona, issues such as these must be controlled with ease and effectiveness so that we do not lose lives of workers because of starvation and lack of basic amenities. The Government should frame policies and make sure they are implemented effectively in favour of the migrant workers.

After all, the protection to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution is given to all irrespective of ay criterion.[12] So, when the Law does not make any discrimination, why does the Government have to in the protection and care of the workers. Let us hope that as a society, we do not fail and that together we bring our hands together and contribute to their plight in whatever manner that we can.


[1] Covid-19 cases in India cross 1 lakh mark, over 3,000 dead, The Times of India, May 19, 2020.

[2] Article 39A, The Constitution of India, 1950.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Press Trust of India, No house rent from migrant labourers, workers for one month: Noida admin, Economic Times, March 28, 2020.

[5] Times now digital, West Bengal has arranged 105 special trains to bring back migrant workers: Mamata Banerjee, Times now, May 14, 2020.

[6] Retd. Justice Kamaljit Singh Garewal, Justice in the times of COVID, India legal, May 16, 2020.

[7] Id.

[8] Mod. Imranulla S, Coronavirus lockdown | Madras High Court directs Centre to disclose the number of migrant labourers who died on the way to their home States, The Hindu, May 16, 2020.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Nitin Sinha, Perception, Legality and Politics of the Migrant Worker Crisis in Lockdown, The Wire, May 15, 2020.

[11] The Wire Staff, 22 Migrant Workers, Kin Have Died Trying to Return Home Since the Lockdown Started, The Wire, March 30, 2020.

[12] Article 21, The Constitution of India, 1950.

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