Karnataka HC, SMS text
Karnataka HC, SMS text
Litigation News

[Migrant Crisis] SMS verification appears to be an exercise to exclude large numbers of migrant workers registered to go home: Karnataka HC

The State had introduced an SMS verification step, wherein migrant workers registered to go to their home state amid the COVID-19 pandemic were expected to re-confirm the same by texting YES and their registration number

Rintu Mariam Biju

In an order passed yesterday, the Karnataka High Court has 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. (Karnataka High Court - May 29)

The State government had sent an SMS to all migrant workers registered with the Seva Sindhi website, asking them re-confirm their registration with a "yes",

"If you want to leave by Shramik Trains, SMS Yes followed by last 6 digits of Seva Sindhu application no to 161 from registered mobile before 6 pm 26th May,", the SMS read.

On Friday, Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and B V Nagarathna, however, noted that,

"Prima facie, we are of the view that this exercise undertaken by the State of seeking confirmation from the migrant workers in a complicated manner appears to be an exercise undertaken to exclude large number of persons who have already registered themselves on Seva Sindhu website to go back to their respective States."
Karnataka High Court

On the aforesaid SMS policy, the Court further observed that the confirmation was called for in a complicated manner, whereby the migrant was expected to type ‘YES’ followed by the last six digits of their registration number.

The Bench further observed, "Lakhs of migrant workers and their family members who have registered themselves on Seva Sindhu website are in a very bad condition. Most of them may not be in a position to give reply as aforesaid even assuming that their cell phones are working. They have no income and they are looking to the State Government for daily food and all basic necessities of life."

During the hearing, the State government had pointed out to the Bench that were approximately 9,13,742 migrant workers/ their family members/ associates who had registered on Seva Sindhu website seeking transport to their home States.

Tthe Court was informed that that 2,52,252 persons have been transported by 177 Shramik special trains between May 3 to May 27. Later, this figure was corrected orally by pointing out that about 2,56,000 such persons have been transported by Shramik special trains.

The Court, in turn, observed that about 6,30,000 persons registered with Seva Sindhu website are yet to be transported. Referring to the number of migrants stated to have been already transported, the Bench remarked that the number "is even less than one third of the total number of migrant workers/their family members who have been registered on Seva Sindhu website."

The Court also noted that in spite of several orders, the State had failed to place on record any transparent and rational policy of selecting the persons out of those who have registered on Seva Sindhu website for being transported by a particular Shramik special train.

Further, the Court went on to remark that no assurance had been communicated to the migrants stating that the State would make all necessary arrangements to transport them to their home States.

The State responded that that it had no intention of excluding anyone who had registered on Seva Sindhu website and that, the State would take immediate steps to communicate an assurance pertaining to transportation of all those who had registered on the Seva Sindhu website.

The Court was also informed that the Police Department had identified 1,20,507 migrant workers across the Bengaluru City who are located in 736 migrant camps and arranged for their transport to their respective States.

However, it is not clear whether these 1,20,507 migrant workers were registered on Seva Sindhu website, the Court noted. Moreover, even assuming that they were registered on Seva Sindhu website, it was not clarified by the State Government why they were given out of turn priority for returning to their respective States.

While the Court was informed that 55,464 persons had replied to the Seva Sindhu SMSes, it has directed the State to refrain from giving priority to the 55,464 persons who had replied "YES" to the State's SMS.

"Prima facie, it appears to us that the State cannot give out of turn priority to 55,464 persons who have communicated their willingness by sending SMS. The reason is that there is complete absence of a transparent and fair policy to choose persons out of registered applicants."

the Court said.

It added, "We are conscious of the fact that making arrangements for more than 9,00,000 people to travel back to their respective States is a huge exercise and there are bound to be some glitches in the process of transporting them back to their respective States."

"However, what we find is a complete absence of policy to choose the eligible persons from those who have registered on Seva Sindhu website for traveling by a particular Shramik special train."
Karnataka High Court

The matter will be next heard on June 4.

Karnataka HC - May 29.pdf
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