Earlier this week, the high court asked Karnataka to make its stand clear on funding the train fares of migrant workers as the states have to bear 15% while the center will bear 85% of the train ticket fare, as announced by the central government two weeks back.
The high court asked this after a memo dated May 16, placed in the court on behalf of the government of India said that some states had paid in advance to arrange the travel of migrant workers. An ongoing hearing in Karnataka high court has revealed that with some home states not paying for their migrant workers, including Karnataka, migrant workers are having to pay from their own pockets to travel home.
In the last few days, the migrant workers in Karnataka have been reported paying Rs. 1000 bribe per person for the Shramik special trains. The majority of migrant workers in Karnataka are from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand.
A division bench headed by Karnataka chief Justice Abhay Sreenivasa 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 reimbursement from destination states if advance payments are not made by the states.
The high court said in its hearing on Monday, that the state government must state before the court whether it wants to deviate from the stand by the government on the issue of bearing the fare of the railway tickets for the migrant workers. It also asked if the Karnataka government wants to take a stand that a migrant worker who has no income and is not in a position to pay for the railway tickets will not be allowed to travel by the Shramik Special trains.
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 for the inability to pay is due to the loss of livelihood.”
“Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Assam, West Bengal, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Nagaland, Tripura, etc. have all deposited money in advance with the government of Karnataka for arrangements of train services for the movement of migrant workers to their respective home states through the Shramik Special trains,” the memo of the Union government said.
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 the 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 the workers.
During the hearings, 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 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 also said that it had fully borne the travel expenses of the 6 Sramik special trains till May 15 that were arranged to bring Migrant workers of Karnataka from other states.
“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 explain the legality of the said stand in the context of the arguments based on Article 14, 15 and sub-clause (d) of clause (1)of Article 19 of the Indian constitution,” the High Court bench observed while adjourning the matter for a response from Karnataka government.
Though the central government had stated that the migrant workers will have some relief as they were provided with Sramik special Special trains, where the cost would be borne by the central 85% and the other 15% by the state governments, this does not seem to work on ground reality. Hence, this chaos between the central and other state governments, are leading to more tension between the labourers, having more and more migrant labourers walking on foot through highways and railroads to get to their homes on account of inability to pay and lack of clarity on the train system for workers.
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 the return home.