Observing that no migrant worker should be deprived of the opportunity to return home due to her/his inability to pay train fares, the Karnataka High Court has asked the state government, besides the Centre, to “take immediate decision on the question of paying railway fare” of those who are unable to travel “due to their inability to pay”.
While some state governments are paying for the travel of migrant workers, the Karnataka government has employed a policy of collecting fare from these people for travelling on Shramik special trains, the High Court has also observed. “If the migrant workers are unable to pay the train fare, it will be impossible to facilitate their travel at a faster rate. Therefore, apart from the Central government, even the State of Karnataka must look into the issue and take immediate decision on the question of paying railway fare of those migrant workers who are not able to travel due to their inability to pay,” a division bench of HC Chief Justice Abhay Sreenivas Oka and Justice B V Nagarathna stated on Tuesday.
The court was hearing a public interest intervention plea on the issue of problems faced by migrant workers in Karnataka during the lockdown, including the state government’s abrupt decision last week of cancelling Shramik train services after more than 3,000 people gathered, attempting to find a seat on special trains to return to their home states.
Governments, the court said, “must appreciate the major contribution made by migrant workers in a large number of public projects as well as private projects which have contributed to improvement of the infrastructure in all states, and the improvement of the economy”. The court observed, “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… that inability to pay is due to loss of livelihood.”
More than 2.13 lakh migrant workers have registered on a state government portal to avail train services to return to their home states. Around 20,000 of them have been able to find seats so far on special trains to Bihar, UP, Rajasthan, Odisha, Jharkhand and Kashmir. A fare of Rs 970 has been charged on Shramik trains going from Karnataka to UP, and Rs 1,150 for trains to Bihar. The special train services stopped on May 6 in Karnataka and resumed on May 8.
The division bench has asked the state government “to ascertain whether any contribution can come from the employers’ association, trade unions and NGOs which can be used for bearing train fares of migrant workers who are not in a position to pay the train fare”.