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The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday issued a set of directions to the Central and state governments to ensure the return of migrant workers to their home states amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice BV Nagarathna has asked the state government to place the following on record:
The total number of migrant workers who have registered themselves on the Seva Sindhu website for going back to their respective states by Shramik special trains as on May 27;
The number of migrant workers who have been transported back to their respective states till May 27;
The district-wise break up of such migrant workers who have now stated that they do not wish to go back to their respective states;
Breakup indicating the states to which the migrant workers have applied to go back;
Details of the requests made to the Railways to run Shramik special trains to various places up to May 31;
The efforts made to allow migrant workers to register themselves on Seva Sindhu who are not in a position to use the internet for registering themselves;
Whether any communication has been issued through the NGOs, Unions, etc., to the migrant workers who have already been registered, about the possible outer limit within which arrangements will be made for transporting them;
Other details as may be found relevant in this connection to satisfy the Court that the state government is making all possible arrangements for smooth transportation of all migrant workers.
The Chief Secretary of the state government had informed the Court that some migrant workers who had earlier registered via the Seva Sindhu website to go back to their respective states, may not be interested in going back as of now. Therefore, by sending an SMS to the migrant workers, the state was trying to ascertain whether all of them want to go back or not.
Responding to this issue, the Court opined that the state government cannot make a general statement that some migrant workers who have already registered on Seva Sindhu are not willing to go back to their respective states.
The Court noted that according to the Additional Advocate General (AAG), two trains that recently left from Karnataka for Uttar Pradesh had vacant seats. Elaborating on this, the Court observed,
Karnataka High Court
On the issue of providing Shramik trains after May 31, the Additional Solicitor General of India (ASG) stated that though he may not have instructions in writing, the trains could continue to function even after May 31, provided requisitions come from the concerned state governments.
Counsel for All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) apprised the Court on several factual aspects. Reference was made to the May 23 incident, where thousands of migrant workers gathered at Palace Grounds in Bangalore. It was submitted that more than 30% to 40% of them who were standing in hot sun were women, children and senior citizens without any food or water.
Taking note of this issue, the Court remarked that,
"Perhaps, the situation which arose on 23rd May, 2020 is due to the lack of certainty or lack of information being communicated to the migrant workers who are eager to go back to their respective States."
Another grievance raised by the AICCTU was the failure of the Railways to provide adequate food to the traveling migrants.
However, the AAG stated that food kits were being supplied by the labour department of the state to all migrant workers who were traveling via Shramik special trains.
Adding on, the ASG also contended that theRailways had made adequate arrangements for providing sufficient food and water to these migrant workers.
In this regard, the Court directed both the governments to place on record the details of the arrangements to provide food and water to the migrant workers who are traveling by Shramik special trains.
However, the Court clarified that this direction was pertaining to train journeys to states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Orissa, which take about two to three days.
On the issue of payment of wages to migrant workers, the Court was told that the migrant workers working on the Waste Treatment Plant of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewarage Board (BWSSB) had not been paid wages for several months.
On the above concern, the Court elicited responses from both the state and Central governments.
On a concluding note, the Court added that if AICCTU or any other unions or NGOs working in the field have a list of migrant workers who wish to travel back to their respective states, then they are free to submit these lists to the state government.
The matter has been posted for hearing next on May 28.
Read the order