The Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the state government to file a detailed affidavit on the steps taken by it to ensure migrant workers stranded across Maharashtra had safe access to transportation to reach their hometowns in other states during the lockdown.
The court issued the directives after it was informed the state had incurred over Rs 42 lakh losses as migrant workers had not shown up to board the special trains and that there was a reverse migration of workers back to Mumbai and other cities, and therefore, a petition seeking an arrangement of transport for migrant workers was an “exercise in futility”.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice A S Gadkari issued the directions while hearing, through video-conference, a PIL filed by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), through senior counsel Gayatri Singh and advocates Kranti L C and Ronita Bhattacharya Bector, seeking relief for migrants availing special Shramik trains and buses to reach their homes in other states during the Covid-19 pandemic. Last month, the HC had refused to dispose of the PIL and not granted any immediate relief to migrant workers stranded awaiting a Supreme Court order on the same.
On Wednesday, the petitioner informed the high court that over 13,000 migrant workers were stranded across Maharashtra and willing to return to their native places in Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Bihar, West Bengal and other states and the state government was required to arrange transportation for them.
Opposing the plea, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, appearing for the state government, said sufficient provisions had been made by the state, including setting up relief camps for stranded workers, and since there was a reverse migration of workers returning to cities in Maharashtra, the petitioner’s claim was “unfounded”.
Kumbhakoni also submitted that requests were made by the petitioner and other NGOs with a list of nearly 8,520 migrant workers willing to leave for their native places. He said six trains were arranged for them and the Railways paid around Rs 69 lakh for the same. He submitted that only 3,551 workers, less than half of the total number, had turned up and actually boarded the trains, as a result of which the state suffered Rs 42.22 lakh loss.
Kumbhakoni further cited an instance in Pune wherein arrangements for 383 migrant workers were sought and only 49 workers actually turned up and were taken in two buses to the railway station, who later boarded a train with over 20 bogies.
“Trains had to be run as our head is under the sword of contempt of previous court orders,” Kumbhakoni said.
After hearing the submissions, the bench observed that as some states were refusing to allow workers to return, and authorities were required to ascertain if the receiving states were inclined to take back migrant workers. Moreover, it said, the petitioner and other NGOs should provide the details to the state government on the number of migrant workers and the states they belong to, after which the concerned states can be contacted by the authorities on their willingness to receive migrant workers.
The court also asked the state government to provide it with the details on the total number of migrant workers who left the state, special trains and buses used to transport them, and the cost incurred by the state government for making such arrangements.