This is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that the judiciary has called for a rapid and constructive response.
Migrant workers suffered the worst impact due to the massive lockdown. The sudden four-hour notice of lockdown caused a huge exodus of migrant workers from cities to their homelands. In the absence of regular transport options, they tried to walk hundreds of kilometres.
There are reports of at least 22 migrant workers dying during their walk back home under the scorching sun. The situation was alarming enough to warrant a suo-moto intervention by the court, especially considering the fact that usual judicial remedies were beyond the access of the hapless victims.
The grave humanitarian crisis in the unfolding demanded a prompt and pro-active response from the court.
The massive number of migration of these labourers working in the cities was mostly triggered by panic generated by the fake news that the lockdown would continue for more than three months. Such panic driven migration has caused untold sufferings and adversities to those who believed and acted on such news. In fact, some have lost their lives in the process- observed by the court.
With this this government had started with the Shramik trains to send back these labourers back to their homes, but now there has been denial of not sending them back to their homes, and many pleas has been filed in court for seeking helping in regards to these migrant labourers .
On Tuesday, the Karnataka high court directed the central and state government to take instant and immediate decision on the question of paying railway fare of those migrant workers who want to travel back to their states but cannot do so due to their inability pay.
At such time when these migrant workers are the backbone of the economy and who has made a huge contribution, are facing the distress and disruption. The central and state government should come forward to help them and assist them at earliest, to return back to their states.
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice B V Nagarathna said:
“Prime Facie, taking into the consideration, it appears to us that considering the constitutional rights of the migrant workers, no one should be deprived of an opportunity to go back to his own state only for the reason that he has no capacity to pay for the transport . The reason is that inability to pay is due to loss of Livelihood”.
It was further added that – “ In this difficult time, the State Government and the Central Government must recognize the tremendous contribution rendered by the migrant workers in a large number of public projects as well as private projects that have led to the development of the infrastructure in all States and the growth of the economy.At a time when migrant workers who have made such an immense contribution are undergoing pressure, both the Central and State Governments will step out to support them ensure they return to their home states as soon as possible.”
Ideally no workers should be denied or deprived of an opportunity or chance, if he wishes to travel back to his state of origin.
In this regard, the Court noted that as per the order of Ministry of Railways issued on May 2, the State Government which arranges for the “Shramik” train is expected to bear the cost of train fare.
The court urged and requests the governments to bring out a solution to these issues, since many of migrant workers are in distress and vulnerable situation, ensuring their right of returning back to their homes should not be violated or infringed only because they are in distress and are not in a position to pay the traveling charges.
Keeping this in mind, the Court directed the Central Government, through the Ministry of Railways, to examine this question, especially provided that, on 11 May, the Home Secretary of the Government of India addressed all the Chief Secretaries, stating that State Governments would cooperate with the Central Government in order to run more Special Trains ‘Shramik.’
“Therefore, apart from the central government, even the state of Karnataka must look into the issue and take immediate decision on the question of paying railway for to those migrant workers who are not able to travel due to their mobility to pay.”
“With these observations in the issue, the Court urged the State Government to immediately convene a meeting of with Trade Unions, Employers’ Associations and NGOs in the State to ascertain whether any contribution can come from the Employers’ Association, Trade Unions and NGOs which can, in turn, be used for bearing the train fares for migrant workers who are not in a position to pay for the same.”
The government was also told that migrant labourers be made aware of the state, policy decision to allow them to return to their respective states by special trains. The bench said.
“Since the assurance of the state government that every migrant workers will be allowed to go back to his home state has not reached them a large number of migrant workers are found on highways making an endeavour to walk up to their respective states.We feel insecure about their prospects of returning to their respective homes and so we see a scenario of migrant workers walking on highways across the whole world.”
The bench noted- “even as of today, a large number of migrant workers are found on highways that are making as an endeavour to walk up to their respective states”.
When the bench told that many migrant workers have not been their wages, it observed.
“The grievance about the non-payment of their salary or wages must be looked into by the state government and its agencies.”
The Bench opined that one reason for this is that the assurance of the State Government that every migrant worker will be allowed to go back to his home State has not reached the migrant workers.
The state government informed the court in regards to that the ten trains will be operated from May 16 to May 20 for the benefit for the migrant workers hail form Bihar reaching back to their respective state. Of which the court has recommended taking support from any of the Trade Union and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who work in the field to insure that the State’s commitment meets all migrant workers who work in the sector. A State Government already registered.
With this the court has asked to put a reply on the above aspects by the May 18. The state is also asked to include details of the special trains so far arranged from various locations around the country and the special trains that were expected to operate in the immediate future. Provide details of the facilities provided to migrant workers from the state of Karnataka who work in other states. The necessary and significant niceties and details such as requests received by the state of Karnataka, steps taken for repatriation of the migrant workers to Karnataka etc are to be placed on record.
IN MY OPINION
The government should be taking appropriate measures to combat the issues, the fare taken by the government from these labourers would led them into more distress,, so as the court suggested the state governments can ask NGOs and trade unions to come into the picture and helping in bearing the fare of the tickets paid by these labourers in era of distress and pandemic.
Article Written By-Sakshi Mehta