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The Karnataka High Court today came down heavily on the State government, observing that it had not provided a transparent and fair procedure on how migrant workers were selected to go back to their home states amid the COVID-19 crisis via Shramik Trains, in spite of repeated orders.
The Division bench comprising of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice BV Nagarathna were, therefore, prompted to pass the following directions:
State to ensure that mustering centers are set up in the districts where there are large number of migrants apart from Bangalore;
State to ensure that every person who comes to mustering centers, reach their home states;
State to place on record a transparent and fair policy stating how and in what order persons from Seva Sindhu are picked to be sent SMS to report at mustering centers;
What steps are being taken to ensure that no one is left behind on account of the fact that he/she did not receive an SMS to report on a particular date at a mustering center;
To ensure that adequate opportunities are available to registered persons who want to reach smaller states especially North Eastern states;
State to explain how persons from districts where there are no shramik trains running, are transported to cities/towns from where shramik trains are running;
During the hearing, the Bench was informed that a meeting chaired by the Chief Secretary of the State was convened on May 30 to discuss the status of implementation of the Supreme Court and High Court orders pertaining to the transportation of migrants. Subsequently, a circular dated June 3 was issued.
The Court firstly noted that as per the minutes of the May 30 meeting, about 9,13,742 migrant workers were registered with the Seva Sindhu website as on that date.
However, in the minutes of the said meeting and in the circular, there was no mention of a policy decision was laid down on how migrant workers would be chosen to travel via Shramik Trains, the Court observed.
On the contrary, the Court noted that the June 3 circular reads, "there is a choice to pick up migrant workers for putting them on a particular Shramik Train."
While AAG Dhyan Chinnappa claimed that anSMS was being sent to all migrants workers registered with the Seva Sindhu portal, the Bench noted that no such policy was recorded.
Adding on to this, the Court observed, even assuming that this was the policy being implemented by the State, there is still no guarantee that the SMS sent would actually reach the migrant worker. Moreover, the State would be in no position to cross-check the same, considering the huge number of migrants.
the Court added.
The Bench further proceeded to hold that,
"A rational method will have to be evolved to ensure that no migrant worker is denied the opportunity to travel by shramik train only on the ground that he has not responded to SMS. The reason is that, the State has no machinery to verify whether the SMS has reached the migrant worker."
Another pertinent issue pointed out to by Court by Counsel Clifton Rozario was the lack of State-wise mustering centres in districts other than Bangalore. Via SMS, the migrant workers are instructed to come to these mustering centres to board the Shramik Trains, Rozario stated.
At this juncture, Chinnappa clarified that only when the number of migrants in these centres touch 15,000 would they be transported. Till this figure is reached, the Migrants would be housed at the mustering centres and all facilities would be provided to them.
Though the Rozario welcomed this initiative, he pointed out that these centers were confined only to the capital city, due to which migrants in other districts of the State were at a disadvantaged position.
Therefore, he urged the Court to direct for setting up more mustering centers in other districts where there is a large number of migrant workers wishing to travel back home.
While passing the directions, the Court also took into account the difficulties faced by migrant workers who wished to return to smaller and remote states.
Last week, the High Court had opined that the new SMS policy brought in by the State for the transportation of outgoing migrants amid COVID-19 appeared to be an exercise undertaken to exclude large number of migrant persons.
The Atate today was also directed to respond on the supply of rations through PDS to persons not possessing ration cards. The Court has asked the State to clarify in what manner the beneficiaries could be identified and how distribution is being carried out to such persons.
Further, the State was asked to place on record the details of kerosene being supplied through PDS, such as its price, availability across the state, etc.
The Court was prompted to pass these directions after Senior Counsel Jayna Kothari submitted the food kits were not reaching the needy persons.
Another issue taken up concerned the provision of protective gear. The Bench has directed the State to place on record the steps it has proposed to take to ensure that good quality PPE Kits are being made available in the open market.
"This has some importance as more and more doctors having private clinics will have to use it now", the Court said.
The matter will be next taken up on June 11