THE Central Information Commission took serious note of the issue of stranded migrant workers on Thursday. Underlining the need for concrete data on the number of stranded migrant workers across the country, it directed the Chief Labour Commission to upload maximum data available with them. It noted this data’s critical importance in assisting State Governments and Union Territories in their relief measures.
“It is pertinent to note that given the uncertainties of the present times, any further delay in disclosing these details or evading the disclosure will only compound the difficulties of either side, the government and that of the unfortunate migrant workers”, the CIC observed.
The data should look into the number of migrant workers stranded in relief camps or shelters organised by governments or at the workplace of their employers or generally clustered in any district and wherever possible cumulative numbers of the migrant workers. It also advised the CLC to upload the names of the districts from where the data is collected in compliance with Section 4 of the RTI Act, 2005, having regard to the peculiar circumstances prevailing in the country.
Transparency during Crisis
In its decision, the CIC referred to orders of the Supreme Court of India in suo motu case regarding miseries of migrant workers and the High Courts of Orissa, Madras and Andhra Pradesh which have already taken judicial notice of the extreme levels of distress and suffering of migrant workers, resulting in scores of deaths.
It advised CLC to exercise vigilance and upload the information voluntarily since it is likely that there will be more requests for information on similar lines from the citizens in the immediate future in this matter which is of national importance during this pandemic. Thus it directed expeditious action on the part of the Respondent office to voluntarily disclose as much data as possible so that citizens do not have to file RTI Applications to seek such basic yet significant information. Section 4(2) of RTI Act may be noted in this regard which mandates every public authority to provide as much information suo moto to the public at regular intervals through various means of communication, including the Internet so that the public need not resort to the use of RTI Act.
Accountability of CPIO, Union Ministry of Labour and Employment
The advisory followed a complaint made by transparency activist Venkatesh Nayak who was denied information in respect of the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment’s letter to the Regional Heads stationed in 20 different places across the country to collect details about every stranded migrant worker and send it to New Delhi within three days. On 5th May, 2020, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) had claimed in an unsigned reply, that the Statistics Section of the Office of the CLC did not have this information. This promoted Nayak to approach the CIC.
Information Commissioner Vanaja N. Sarna also admonished the CPIO for such negligent handling of the RTI application concerning an issue of such wide implications. It noted, that the CPIO should transfer the matter to the appropriate authority in the Chief Labour Commissioner’s office to obtain the necessary information.
“He should note that such poor handling shows complete laxity towards the implementation of the RTI Act which was enacted to promote transparency and accountability in the country and in case such a lapse is repeated in future, the Commission will be constrained to initiate penalaction against him”, Information Commissioner said.
The commission added that the website should be continuously updated as and when additional data on this subject matter is received from time to time. Further, CIC directed the CLC to file a compliance report within a week from the date of the decision.