Karnataka stopped special trains for migrant workers

Karnataka stopped special trains for migrant workers

Chief Minister of Karnataka BS Yediyurappa on 1st May: 2020 urged the migrant workers of the State to stay back in the state while assuring them that steps will be taken to resume industrial and other economic activities of the State. Yediyurappa empathized with the workers in the state and assured them that they will be provided with employment by the State and hence, must not go back to their native places. On 30th April; 2020, the Karnataka Government opened up 8 more districts of the state including Bengaluru rural for industrial activities[1]. The Karnataka government exercised this option intending to take the State’s economy back on track due to the catastrophic injury caused to the economy by COVID-19. The State government urged migrant workers to stay back as the construction work has resumed back in the State and there is a lack of laborers to work on the construction sites. Hence, the State required laborers to stay back to revive the stagnated economy of it.

He also announced Rs. 1,610 crores as ‘financial package’ and further said that the compensation of Rs. 5,000 will be provided to 2,30,000 barbers and 7,75,000 drivers of the state[2].

After the state government observed that the migrant workers disregarded the CM Yediyurappa’s appeal, Karnataka State Government had to stop the special ‘Shramik’ trains for migrant workers to travel back to their home States as a measure to keep the migrants in the State and revive the economy. CM announced that no special trains will be operational in the state for the movement of migrant workers as the state needs them to stay back. Construction and other industries have resumed the work but due to shortage of labor, the economy is not reviving back to its original state. The shortage of labor may have two consequences: The migrant workers who stayed back and decided to go back to work were overburdened by their employers as there is a dire need to recover all the losses that have occurred due to the non-operation of industries and businesses along with no rise in their pay. Therefore, the migrant workers who disregarded the CM’s appeal could’ve indirectly caused the abuse of laborers who stayed back by their employers. Also the Karnataka Government could’ve suffered from a cash crunch in the near future if the migrant workers continued to travel because the directions were issued that State Governments have to pay a certain portion of the costs of travel of migrant workers back to their home States. If the State Government had continued to send migrant workers back to their home States, it would’ve acted like a double-edged sword that could’ve ripped apart the state’s economy. The Government would’ve been unable to recover from the losses caused due to the non-operation of industries and businesses during the national lockdown and had to spend the already available meagre amount of funds available to States to facilitate the travel of migrant workers back to their home States.

Hence, the State Government wrote to the South Western Railway i.e. SWR to withdraw its request for the arrangement of transporting migrant workers back to their states through special trains. N. Manjunatha Prasad, the Principal Secretary of the Revenue Department who is also appointed as the nodal officer to coordinate the movement of migrant workers to and from the State in his letter canceled the train services which were scheduled to begin from Bengaluru to Dhanapur in Bihar at 9 am, 12 noon and 3 pm on 5th May; 2020. A total of 10 Shramik special trains were canceled on his request with thousands of migrants still stranded in various parts of the city[3]. The reason behind the cancellation of Shramik special trains for the movement of migrant workers was that the builders in the State apprised the CM Yediyurappa of the shortage of laborers at work.

On 5th May; 2020, approximately 1200 passengers boarded the Shramik special trains from the Chikkabanavara station located on the outskirts of the State, and others who walked over 35 kilometers to reach the railway station were stopped near approach road because they did not register to travel back.

The representatives of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI) met Chief Minister Yediyurappa after which he gave a statement that the COVID-19 situation is almost in control in Karnataka in comparison to other States. Industrial, construction and trade activities have to be resumed in areas that are not marked as red zones and hence, requested laborers to avoid unnecessary travel back to their home States[4]. The State government asked migrant workers to travel back to their homes only if they need it and not with the purpose of paying a casual visit to their families back at home. However, a great portion of the population of migrant workers is desperate to go back to their homes. Migrants are concerned about the well-being of their family members back at their homes and are uneasy that they may not be available for their families if they face some problems. Shailesh who is a painter from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh told he had used up all the money he had[5]. He was also worried about the fact that his brother also lost his job one and half months back[6]. A total of 9,000 migrants have already left the city and hence, those who are still here are needed to resume the construction and industrial activities at the required pace.

Also, an SWR i.e. South Western Railway official confirmed that the Railways Ministry plays no role in the cancellation of train facilities. The Railways is responsible to act as facilitators to the state government for the movement of migrant workers through special Shramik trains[7]. It is the respective State Government that advises the Railways on the requirement of services, identifying destinations, passenger screening, and obtaining all other clearances imperative for the travel.

Though the decision of the Karnataka Government was right from one perspective, it was not welcomed by all properly. There was outrage over the decision of the Karnataka Government to stop the ferrying of migrant workers who want to leave the state and need to go back to their families in their home states. The Opposition has criticized the decision of the State Government rigorously. Numerous opposition leaders criticized it and expressed that the State Government is treating migrant workers in the State like ‘bonded laborers’ for the reason that they are compulsorily stopped against their wishes to go back[8]. The Opposition also criticized the decision on the ground that whether the migrant workers want to stay back in the state or not should be their decision and the government stands nowhere eligible to decide whether they want to go or not. Keeping migrant workers forcefully in the State against their wishes is an inhumane act and the government is acting inconsiderately towards the plight of migrant workers. It should be the decision of the migrant workers whether to choose health or work[9]. The government is inconsiderate of the fact that the migrant workers who used to work in the city have not been able to send money back to their homes for almost 2 months because of the lockdown and hence, it is required for them to go back to their families back in the home states to provide them emotional support and that will even reduce their dependence on the relief schemes provided by the Karnataka government.

However, the government responded well to criticism. Yediyurappa responded that the state is not forcing its migrant workers to stay back. It is merely an appeal. If the demand will be raised by migrant workers that they want to go back to their home States, the government will make arrangements for the movement of migrant workers without any second thoughts. The Government canceled trains to just revive the economy and recover all the losses suffered due to the non-operation of industrial and construction activities. If the workers choose to go back to their families back at their home States, they are free to do so and the government won’t stop them.

The decision by Karnataka Government was right in its approach for one more reason. If the migrant workers keep travelling back to their home states, where the COVID-19 situation is already worse, it may even burden the states with poorly developed healthcare sectors with more positive COVID-19 cases which is not at all feasible to the national economy as well. Hence, the decision directly protected the interests of the workers by making them stay in the State so they can work and get paid for it and national interest by not burdening the states with poor developed healthcare sector with more potential patients.

Haryana Chief Minister has also adopted the same approach. Though Haryana State Government did not cancel the Shramik special trains for the movement of migrant workers the Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar has also made an appeal before the migrant workers of the State to stay back in the state as the industrial and construction work will resume soon in the near days for the revival of the state economy[10]

Both Haryana CM and Karnataka CM had appealed on the ground that migrant workers will get guaranteed work if they stay back in the city. However, what is still left to be seen is whether other states will get inspired by Yediyurappa’s action and cancel the Shramik special trains that will depart from their States. The pandemic still has its roots in India so no one can predict how the State governments will act to combat it.


The decision of the Karnataka Government is correct in its approach that the economy has to be revived and for that to become effective, migrant workers are required to stay back in the State and not move back to their home states. But what the opposition has said is also correct in its approach for the reason that the freedom of movement within the territory of India should be vested in the person himself and no other person should disturb it except according to the reasonable restrictions prescribed in Art. 19 of the Indian Constitution.

The Karnataka Government has responded well to the criticism by the opposition and expressed that it will be willing to send migrant workers back to their home states if they demand so.

Though the decision by the CM Yediyurappa was much needed for the revival of the economy it may create discontent among migrant workers who are present in the State. As a result, migrant workers may stage a protest for demanding their return to their homes and one can interpret that dealing with protests during the time of pandemic will create disturbance to the public peace and may even aggravate the potential risk of the spread of COVID-19. Hence, the government should’ve done the same with a different approach.

Instead of making an appeal to migrant workers to stay back, the state government should’ve first offered work to the migrant workers. It would’ve provided the migrant workers with an actual choice between work or going back home. When the workers would’ve seen the rising number of employment opportunities for them before the cancellation of trains, the workers could’ve themselves refrained from going back to their homes as it would motivate them to stay back and earn some money so they can send the same money to their families back at their homes. This approach could’ve reduced the potential discontent among the masses and the state government may have received voluntary participation of workers in the revival of the economy.

Article Written By- Muskan Sharma
Law Student– Jamia Millia Islamia
(HRDI Work From Home Internship)

[1] “Promising work, Yediyurappa asks migrants to stay back”, The Economic Times, available at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/promising-work-yediyurappa-asks-migrants-to-stay-back/articleshow/75500373.cms?from=mdr (Last visited on 7th May; 2020)

[2] “Karnataka CM asks migrant workers to ‘stay back’; announces Rs. 1,610 cr financial package”, TimesNow News.com, available at: https://www.timesnownews.com/bengaluru/article/eye-on-reviving-the-economy-karnataka-cm-asks-migrant-labourers-to-stay-back-cancels-trains-leaving-state/587734 (Last visited on 7th May; 2020)

[3] “Karnataka stops special trains for migrants, Haryana CM too appeals to workers to stay amid lockdown triggered exodus”, Outlook, The News Scroll, available at: https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/karnataka-stops-special-trains-for-migrants-haryana-cm-too-appeals-to-workers-to-stay-amid-lockdown-triggered-exodus/1826205 (Last visited on 7th May; 2020)

[4] “To ‘revive economy’, Karnataka govt. cancels special trains for migrants”, The Indian Express, available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/karnataka-govt-cancels-special-trains-for-migrants-to-revive-economy-6396185/ (Last visited on 7thMay; 2020)

[5] “Lockdown: Karnataka stops special trains for migrants”, The Tribune, available at: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/lockdown-karnataka-stops-special-trains-for-migrants-81244 (Last visited on 7th May; 2020)

[6] Ibid.

[7] Supra note 5.

[8] “ ‘Are they bonded labourer?’: Outrage as Karnataka stops trains for migrants”, NDTV, available at: https://www.ndtv.com/karnataka-news/karnataka-cancels-migrants-train-congress-says-cant-keep-them-captive-2224225 (Last visited on 7th May; 2020)

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Karnataka stops special trains for migrants, Haryana CM too appeals to workers to stay amid lockdown triggered exodus”, The Economic Times, available at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/karnataka-stops-special-trains-for-migrants-haryana-cm-too-appeals-to-workers-to-stay-amid-lockdown-triggered-exodus/articleshow/75586624.cms (Last visited on 7th May; 2020)