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Stranded migrants of South Gujarat: High Court says it 'trusts' state govt steps

By Our Representative 
The Gujarat High Court has said it “expects and trusts” that the state would be “vigilant and do its best” to ensure the safety of nearly sugarcane 90,000 workers from Maharashtra, working as sugarcane workers in four South Gujarat districts -- Bharuch, Surat, Valsad and Navsari – as also several lakh inter-state migrants from Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal -- but stranded in South Gujarat following the lockdown announced on March 24 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The observation, which came in a writ petition filed by senior counsel Anand Yagnik, followed advocate general Kamal Trivedi stated that that the “government is not only bound to but has already taken up the grievances”, even as assuring the court that “all necessary steps would be taken in this regard, if not already taken.”
“In view of the assurance given by learned advocate general, this petition does not require any further consideration and accordingly it stands disposed of. The Court expects and trusts that the State would be vigilant and do its best to ensure that all necessary help is provided to the categories disclosed by Yagnik in his note”, observed the court.
The observation by High Court bench consisting of Chief JusticeVikram Nath and Justice Ashutosh Shastri was made during the hearing of 18 public interest litigations (PILs) alleging hardships faced by marginalized sections of society. Asked if the court’s remark meant that the government is now duty bound to provide necessary relief to stranded migrants, Yagnik told Counterview, “The bench did not give any specific directions.”
In a note submitted to the High Court, Yagnik had submitted that sugarcane migrant workers, known as “koita”, consisting of round 90,000 workers from Maharashtra, and 38,000 families, all of whom worked as sugarcane workers in Bharuch, Surat, Valsad and Navsari districts of South Gujarat, are “stranded”, and as the harvesting season is yet to come to an end, the workers have not been paid wages by the farmers and contractors, who employed them.
Worse, he said, the workers are not being allowed to live in villages because of the apprehension surrounding the spread of coronavirus, hence they are living in clusters, wherever they could. “No wages by employer and no assistance of any sort have been provided to them till date”, he said, citing information he received from Dr Kiran Desai of the Centre for Social Studies, Surat, and Sudhir Katiyar of the NGO Prayas.
As for the inter-state migrant workers in Surat city and surrounding areas, mostly working in textile and diamond polishing sectors, the note, even as citing specific sources, said, around 10 lakh inter-state migrants from Odisha, UP, Bihar and West Bengal are stranded in Varaccha, Paandesara, Vadod, Bamroli, Bhestan, Unn, Laskana, Sayan, Delhad and Pipodara (Kim) areas.
Then, the note continued, in around 2.5 to 3 lakh construction workers from Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal are stranded in, South Surat, Sachin and adjoining areas From Umra to Udhana Magdalla and Magdalla to Sachin, Dumas, Bhatar Althan Bamroli. 
Also stranded, said the note, are 1.5 lakh workers in the Hazira industrial belt, all of whom worked in ONGC, L&T, Kribhko, Reliance, Adani, Essar, Shell, and IOC, and about 35,000 truck drivers and conductors, all of whom are staying in “clusters and colonies mushroomed in the agricultural farms” in Hazira, Juna Gav (Shivrampura), Mora, Bhatlai, Damka, Rajgari, Ichhapur, Bhatpor, Bhatha, and Kavash.
Ever since the lockdown, the workers have been starving and no proper food security has been provided by the Gujarat government
Yagnik complained, the inter-state migrant workers working in these sectors “do not receive food regularly”, adding, “Whenever food is provided it is in very less quantity and the quality too is very abysmal. Ever since the lockdown, the workers have been starving and no proper food security has been provided by the state.”
Regretting that no assistance in the form of cash and kind has been provided, he said, these workers have not been provided with any sort of material or assistance to maintain their hygiene and hence are at a larger risk of getting infected.
Even as making similar observations to other writ petitions, the High Court bench regretted that the some of the civil applications and PILs filed “are genuine, although without facts, figures and foundations, and not even complying to the requirements under the rules of court for presenting PILs”, hence were being disposed of.
“The court would have appreciated the cause being raised by the champions of public interest and social activists had they actually been helping the state machinery by intimating their concerns to the learned advocate general, public prosecutor and government pleader as suggested by Kamal Trivedi … rather than approaching the court”, it said.
Referring to a petition containing 20 reliefs relating to social security, water, sanitation, food security, health, housing, education, communicating, etc., the bench observed, “This is one of those writ petitions which has been filed recklessly and without any sense of responsibility. Simply prayers of anything and everything under the sun have been claimed.”
Meanwhile, the Gujarat government, in an order, has appointed eight senior IAS bureaucrats for various special duties related to Covid-19 relief work, including for monitoring of all Covid-19 patients on ventilators and coordinating with doctors, activities in hospitals in the Ahmedabad, and providing food and shelter to labourers etc. in Gujarat, especially Surat.

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