MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court on Tuesday said the migrants' issue was not handled properly in West Bengal amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the government there at one point of time even refused to permit labourers from other parts of the country to return to their homes.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Anuja Prabhudessai made the observation while hearing a petition filed by Centre of Indian Trade Unions, a Mumbai-based trade union body, raising concerns over the plight of migrant workers stranded in Maharashtra in the wake of the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
According to the petitioner, the process laid down by the Maharashtra government wherein migrant workers have to register themselves to travel by 'Shramik Special' trains to their native states was cumbersome and should be simplified.
The government last month told the court that presently there are no demands for 'Shramik Special' trains.
Senior counsel Gayatri Singh, appearing for the petitioner, on Tuesday told the court that the governments submission that there are no stranded migrants who desire to go back to their native states was "incorrect".
"The petitioner has got in touch with several such migrant labourers and has learnt that there are some 56,000 labourers who still want to travel back to their native states, Singh said, adding many of these labourers are from West Bengal.
The court, however, asked how can it accept this.
"Do you know the situation in West Bengal? The government there at one point did not even permit migrant labourers to return. We do not want to say anything against anyone but the situation there was not handled properly," Chief Justice Datta said.
He also gave an example of 30 labourers stranded in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra who had arranged a bus on their own and travelled to West Bengal a few months back.
"Each and every migrant labourer is not banking upon the state government. Many are making their own arrangements to travel back to their native states," the court said.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, appearing for the Maharashtra government, on Tuesday told the court that a similar matter pertaining to the issue of migrant workers was pending before the Supreme Court.
The high court, after perusing the order passed by SC on July 9, noted that it was specific to Maharashtra.
"The Supreme Court, in its order dated July 9, 2020, expressed its displeasure at the state governments reluctance to find out if there are migrants stranded in Maharashtra and were ready to leave for their native states.
The apex court sought Maharashtra governments response and has listed the matter for further hearing on July 17, the high court said.
In view of this, the bench posted the petition for hearing in the first week of August.