Following criticism from the Karnataka High Court, the state government announced it would pay for tickets until May 31.

Migrant workers boarding trains to return home
Coronavirus Coronavirus Friday, May 22, 2020 - 16:16

After facing severe flak for asking migrant workers to pay for their travel via the Shramik Trains, the Karnataka government on Thursday said that it would pay for tickets for travel till May 31. The development comes after scathing observations by the Karnataka High Court questioning the government on making impoverished migrant workers pay for train tickets to go home. 

"Government has considered the plea of migrant workers who were unable to bear the travel expenditure to go back to their home town. Government considers migrant workers, who have come from far flung parts of our country, as our own people and it is my firm belief that they too must be supported by the State. Therefore Karnataka Government will bear the cost of travel of migrant workers and stranded persons to their respective States by Shramik Trains up to 31st May, 2020," Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa said in a series of tweets. 

The Centre on Thursday placed the burden of bearing the ticket costs on the respective state governments. “As per the guidelines issued, the sending State will pay the consolidated fare to Railways. Sending State may decide to bear this cost or take it from passengers or take it from the receiving state after mutual consultation or may charge it to any fund. It is purely their prerogative,” a statement from a railway spokesperson said.  

On Thursday, the High Court asked the Chief Secretary TM Vijay Bhaskar and the Labour Secretary to appear before the court via video conference since the state government had not specified any document detailing its stance on making migrant workers pay, particularly at a time many workers had no work or pay since the lockdown was imposed at the end of March. 

"It appears to us 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 is that inability to pay is due to loss of livelihood,” the High Court bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Sreenivas Oka and Justice BV Nagarathna had noted in an order issued on May 18.

While Karnataka has been paying for the fares of those migrant workers coming in from other states to Karnataka, the train fares of workers leaving the state were being paid by the workers themselves unless the corresponding states they were returning to decided to bear the train fares. The state government said so during its submissions to the High Court on Monday.  

The Karnataka High Court had also asked the state government about how migrant workers are being selected to be transported by Shramik trains back to their respective states. The High Court also asked the state government to clarify its stance on whether it wants to make migrant workers who are travelling home in these trains pay for their tickets 

"The High Court was critical of the government's indecision over the issue. The bench highlighted this is a question of humanity and the bench noted that the workers have not received income during the lockdown period and most of them are impoverished. The court also urged the government to take a decision on the matter urgently," Maitreyi Krishnan, a lawyer with the Alternative Law Forum, told TNM. 

On May 5, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa held a meeting with builders in the state, who advocated for cancelling the trains for migrant workers as it would affect business adversely. The Chief Minister had tweeted urging the migrant workers to stay back and "work,” but the decision was met with massive public outrage and just a day later Yediyurappa was forced to restart the Shramik trains.