The Gujarat HC granted bail to the 33 migrant workers arrested on 18.05.2020. The decision comes in the light of several atrocities taking place against migrant workers during the COVID- 19 pandemic.
Brief Facts of the Case
The applicants were migrant labourers at a construction site in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Out of 33, 32 belonged to the state of Jharkhand and 1 to West Bengal.
The Central Government announced nationwide lockdown from March 2020. However, this left the applicants without any livelihood.
On 18.05.2020, the workers gathered at the construction site. This was near the New IIM Building at Vastrapur, Ahmedabad. They started demanding food and wages. They also wanted to be sent back to their respective native places.
Soon, a scuffle erupted as the policemen dispersed the crowd. Thereafter, the police detained several migrant workers.
The police charged the migrants under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. They also applied Section 135(1) of the Gujarat Police Act, Section 3 of the Epidemic Act, Section 51(b) of the Disaster Management Act and Section 3(1) and 3(2)(e) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.
Advocate Nirav Mishra represented the applicants in the present matter.
The pandemic comes as a surprise to the entire world. The sudden imposition of lockdown has created challenging circumstances for all.
However, the situation has made a more gruesome impact on the daily wage earners. Moreover, the daily wage workers who have migrated from the native places have to face the wrath of the pandemic. With no food and money, the victims may have resorted to unlawful activities.
The Supreme Court has time and again passed directives during the lockdown period. On 26.05.2020, the Apex Court took suo moto cognizance of the pathetic condition of migrant labourers.
On 09.06.2020, the Supreme Court directed all State Governments and Union Territories to identify and transport stranded migrants to their natives within 15 days.
The Apex Court also ordered retraction of criminal cases against the migrants. They are currently booked for lockdown violations under the Disaster Management Act. This was as they attempted to walk to their villages and formed crowds in public places.
Further, on 19.06.2020, the Supreme Court mandated the directions earlier passed on 09.06.2020. This was for the transportation of the workers to their hometowns within 15 days.
On 12.05.2020, the Gujarat High Court took notice of the stranded migrants. It reminded the State authorities of its paramount duties, which was to ensure dignified living of its citizens. This treatment that the migrants are facing is against Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
The High Court also noted the sufferings and desperation of the migrants. They are the most downtrodden, underprivileged and weaker section of the society. It asserted that they are not afraid of COVID-19 but definitely afraid of death due to starvation.
In light of the above directions and orders, the Court has decided on the present matter.
The Court has observed the circumstances of the applicants. They had no means of livelihood. As a result, this had rendered them without any food for days.
The court asserted —
“In the lockdown, when the applicants were without any work, without any money and even without any food and under such circumstances, instead of arranging of their going back home, they are sent to jail. The Applicants are more the victims, certainly not the criminals.”
Justice Paresh Upadhyay pronounced the judgement.
The Court has granted bail to all the 33 migrant workers under Section 439 of IPC. As a result, the applicants are to furnish personal bonds of Rs. 500 each.
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