With home states not paying train fares for their migrant workers, and Karnataka also refusing to bear it, migrant workers are having to pay from their own pockets to travel home — an ongoing hearing in the Karnataka High Court has revealed.
A division bench headed by Karnataka Chief Justice Abhay Sreeniva Oka has now asked the Karnataka government to clarify the legality of its refusal to pay the train fares of migrant workers from states like UP, Bihar and Jharkhand — despite the central government laying down rules for reimbursements from destination states if advance payments are not made by the states.
`The state government must state before the court whether it wants to deviate from the stand taken by the Government of India on the issue of bearing the fare of the railways and whether it really wants to take a stand that a migrant worker who has no income and is not in a position to pay railway fare will not be allowed to travel by Shramik special trains to his home state,” the high court bench said in its order following a hearing on Monday.
Last week, the high court had stated 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”.
This week, the high court asked Karnataka to make its stand clear on funding the train fares of migrant workers after a memo dated May 16 was placed in court on behalf of the Government of India, which said some states had paid in advance to arrange the travel of migrant workers.
“Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Assam, West Bengal, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Nagaland, Tripura, etc. have all deposited money in advance with the GoK for arrangement of train services for the movement of migrant workers to their respective home states through the designated trains i.e. Shramik special trains,” the memo of the union government stated.
The additional solicitor general, who appeared on behalf of the Centre, also made oral submissions stating that in the case of migrant workers from states which have not agreed to pay the train fare of migrant workers, the Karnataka government would have to pay the fare and take up the issue of reimbursement of the fares with the home states of workers.
The majority of migrant workers in Karnataka are from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand and they have reported paying approximately Rs 1,000 per ticket for the Shramik Special trains.
During the hearings in the case, the Karnataka government has maintained in written statements that migrant workers will have to pay the cost of train travel if their home states do not agree to bear the =fare.
The Karnataka government has also argued that the HC cannot interfere in the matter of paying train fares for migrants since the Supreme Court on May 15 had not intervened on the issue of migrants walking home in the absence of public transport arrangements.
The Karnataka government has also said that it has arranged six Shramik Special trains till May 15 for bringing migrant workers of Karnataka from other states and fully borne their travel expenses.
“Now 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 state will have to satisfy the court about the legality of the said stand in the context of the arguments based on Articles 14, 15 and sub-clause (d) of clause (1) of Article 19 of the Constitution of India,” the High Court bench observed while adjourning the matter for a response from the Karnataka government.
The court had last week asked the Centre and Karnataka to decide quickly on states bearing the cost of the train fares of migrants saying that people were walking on highways to get to their homes on account of inability to pay and lack of clarity on the train system for workers.
Till Monday, the south western railways had operated 83 Shramik Special trains to transport over 1.12 lakh migrant workers from Karnataka to their home states, with over 50 of them being to destinations in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.
Over the next few days, as many as 47 Shramik trains are expected to transport 70,000 workers to Bihar, 13 trains are expected to transport 19,500 migrants to Jharkhand, and 28 trains are scheduled to transport 42,000 migrants to Uttar Pradesh.
Over five lakh migrant workers are estimated to have applied since May 1 for permission to travel back home from Karnataka on a government portal, which is being used to register the requests for return home. There are also hundreds of unregistered workers turning up at police stations and government facilities with requests to go home.
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