The Gujarat High Court has directed the railway authorities to waive one-way train ticket charges of migrant workers, or the state government should bear the cost as an alternative arrangement.
It said the government's response to a PIL seeking the court's direction for free transportation of migrant workers stranded due to the lockdown reflects that travel charges levied by the railway authorities are borne by a few host states, NGOs, employers, voluntary associations, and "this is not done".
"We direct the railway authorities to waive one-way charges of these migrant labourers or in the alternative, for the state government to bear such charges," a division bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and IJ Vora said on Friday.
The court's order came after the Vijay Rupani government said in a written reply that out of 22.5 lakh migrant workers in Gujarat, only 7,512 were registered under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act and they were thus, eligible for travel allowance.
"The state government shall ensure that migrant workers do not have to face further difficulties for the purpose of travelling to their native places. The work in this regard shall continue in the right direction," the court said in an order.
The state government told the court that nearly 22.5 lakh inter-state migrant workers lived in Gujarat, as per the state labour department's data.
But, provisions of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act were applicable to only 7,512 workers who were registered under it.
"Most of the 22.5 lakh migrant workers have come on their own and provisions for payment of travel and displacement allowances, as required under Sections 14 and 15 of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, were not applicable to them," it said.
Under sections 14 and 15 of the Act, contractors are required to pay travel and displacement allowances to workers.
The state government told the court that the Railways had been collecting transportation charges from workers even though travel arrangements were being made at the district-level by NGOs and civil society organisations.
States, including Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, have said they would reimburse travel expenses to the Railways directly, it said. "No migrant worker has been denied travel to his hometown on account of non-payment of travel charges," the Gujarat government claimed.
Following the coronavirus-enforced lockdown, over 11 lakh migrant workers have so far left from Gujarat for their native places by Shramik Special trains.