On the 4th of May, 2020, the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court, under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, challenging the State Government’s move to cancel all the trains that were supposed to transport intra-state and inter-state migrant workers to their respective home districts and home towns respectively.
This comes in the light of the global pandemic causing a countrywide lockdown since 22nd March 2020, leading to state borders being closed and cities, towns and villages being sealed off. Because of the same, the migrant workers, majorly daily-wage and minimum-wage workers were left stranded, divested of any livelihood or earning, unable to return to their home villages.
AICCTU, a Central Trade Union working across districts of Karnataka, dealing in ration relief work among migrants and other marginalised sections of society, had been receiving several distress calls and messages from the migrant workers across the State, miserable and seeking help.
Hence, the Trade Union had visited the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre and the workers there expressed their agony as to how they had to walk over 50 km to arrive at the Centre. Their situation was desperate, having failed to pay their rent, surviving without the provision of proper food or ration, living in utterly deplorable conditions on account of having not received their wages since March 24.
The petition also submits how the mental health status of the workers had severely deteriorated because they had to stay away from their families in times of such an epidemic crisis. It was also asseverated that
“Denial of free and safe transport to their villages and home States is an affront to the right to life of migrant workers and severely erodes human dignity”.
Further, it was submitted that
“The State has a positive obligation to realise the fundamental rights of the migrant workers guaranteed under Articles 21 and 19(1)(d) of the Indian Constitution, which would entail removal of all obstacles in the enjoyment of the said fundamental rights. In this case, having full knowledge of the poverty and lack of access to any finances at this moment, the State must provide free transport to the migrant workers”.
The petition further goes on to emphasize the myriad issues faced by both the intra-state and inter-state migrant workers. They are as enumerated below:
Issue faced by Intra-State Migrant Workers
- The first and foremost problem that the workers are facing is that of paying high prices for their tickets. The workers are marooned and are in no way, capable of paying hefty ticket prices. The petition necessitates that these charges are waived and free transport be provided;
- A lack of information and clarity on account of the method to be followed by the workers to register themselves so that they can travel back, in the backdrop of the mandate of the Standard Operating Protocol which requires an online registration to be made. Workers have only been recently informed that they should approach the police station;
- Both, a lack of public transportation and obscurity is causing the workers to walk long distances even to get clarification and proper, reliable information.
- There are no train services available to the destination states, from railway stations of other districts in Karnataka, apart from Bengaluru. This creates hurdles for inter-state migrant workers present in other districts, for instance, Mangaluru, who have no idea as to what steps should be taken next.
Having cited the above issues, the plea makes a prayer to the High Court to direct the State to provide free, easily accessible and a safe mode of transport, either by bus or train, to the intra-state migrant workers, from various parts of Karnataka up to their villages. Concerning the inter-state migrants, the petition asks the Court to direct both the Central and the State Governments to arrange for free and safe transport across the State of Karnataka, by train, up to their home States.
Not only this, but the plea also requests the Court to urge the Government to make available all the necessary basic amenities including food, drinking water, toilets as well as sanitizers at the bus stands and railway stations alike, from where the migrants are supposed to depart.
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