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"We must note here that we are dealing with the issue of violation of fundamental right of migrant workers who are unable to approach Writ Court for the reasons which are obvious", the Court observed.
The Karnataka High Court has asked the State Government to clarify its stand on the legality of its refusal to pay the train fares for the return of migrant workers from other states to their home states amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
The direction was issued after taking note of rules laid down by the Central government for reimbursements to the corresponding states where advance payments for the travel of migrant workers are not made by the home states.
The order passed on Monday on the issue by the Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Sreeniwas Oka and Justice B V Nagarathna reads,
The Court took note that by refusing to bear the travel costs for those workers who cannot afford the same, "the State wants to create two separate classes of migrant workers who wish to go back to their respective States based on the State of their origin."
The Karnataka Government had taken a stand that the migrant workers will have to pay the cost of train travel if their home states do not agree to bear the fare.
The Court added, "We must note here that we are dealing with the issue of violation of fundamental right of migrant workers who are unable to approach Writ Court for the reasons which are obvious."
Referring to the Central Government's memo of May 16, the Court was informed that some states like Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Assam, West Bengal, Manipur, etc. had already deposited money in advance with the Union for the arrangement of train services to transport migrant workers back to their respective home states through the designated "Shramik special trains".
Appearing for the Centre, the Additional Solicitor General submitted that the Karnataka Government would have to bear for time being the train fare for migrant workers who cannot afford the same for their travel out of Karnataka to their home states. Later the Karnataka Government can take up the issue of fare reimbursement from the home state.
The Karnataka government had argued that the High Court cannot interfere in the matter of paying train fares for migrants since the Apex Court on May 15 had refrained from intervening in the issue of migrants walking home in the absence of public transport arrangements.
The Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court, however, has asked the State Government to justify its stand by the next hearing.
The State government also apprised the Court that it had arranged six Shramik Special trains till May 15 for bringing migrant workers of Karnataka from other states and that it had fully borne their travel expenses.
Further, it was stated that 47 shramik trains had been scheduled to transport 1,37,500 migrants to their respective home states. However, on this point, the Court made the following observations:
There is no clarity on the question which migrants have been selected to go back by these trains.
There is no clarity on the question how these migrants are selected to back to their states.
There is no clarity about the approximate figure of migrant workers who wish to go back to their respective states.
The clear picture of available number of migrant workers who want to go back to their respective States is not before the Court. It may not be possible to give accurate figures, but even a broad estimate is not available.
The details of the buses plying migrants to states such as Telangana, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh etc. have not been placed on record.
In view of these observations, the Court has also directed the State to place on record an estimate of the number of migrant workers who have registered to go back to their respective States and the manner in which the State proposes to facilitate their return.
The matter will be next heard on May 21.