While granting bail to 33 applicants (migrant labourers working in Ahmedabad) on Tuesday (23 June), the Gujarat High Court termed them as the "victims" and "not criminals", and said that they need to be set free immediately. The applicants were in jail since 18.05.2020, the day when the alleged untoward incident took place.
Justice Paresh Upadhyay was hearing an application filed by Ravi & 32 others who were booked for offences punishable under Sections 143, 144, 147, 148, 149, 186, 332,333, 336, 337, 427 and 188 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 135(1) of Gujarat Police Act, Section 3 of the Epidemic Act, 1897, Section 51 (b) of the Disaster Management Act and Section 3 (1) and 3 (2) (e) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act registered with Vastrapur Police Station, District: Ahmedabad.
Advocate Nirav R. Mishra appeared on behalf of the applicants and submitted that, out of a total of 33 applicants, 32 are from the State of Jharkhand and 1 applicant is from the State of West Bengal. All the applicants had come to Ahmedabad for labour work and were working at the construction site of New IIM building at Vastrapur, Ahmedabad (Gujarat).
It was further submitted that during the lockdown period, the applicants were without any work, without any money and even without any food and under these circumstances, they wanted to go back to their respective homes, which led to the alleged untoward incident on 18.05.2020, and which further led to the registration of the case in question, wherein as many as 35 persons are named as accused.
It is to be noted that this particular incident was widely reported in the national media as several migrant workers were detained by the police after the alleged untoward incident took place.
As reported by The Hindu, on the morning of May 18 nearly 100 migrant workers had gathered near the construction site of New IIM building at Vastrapur, Ahmedabad where they started demanding food, wages and that they be sent back to their native places. As the police came to disperse the crowd, a scuffle erupted between them.
Further, the Court in its order stated that
"It is noted that, in the lockdown, when the applicants were without any work, without any money and even without any food and under such circumstances, instead of arranging of their going back home, they are sent to jail. The Applicants are more the victims, certainly not the criminals. They need not be continued in custody any further. They need to be set free immediately, on furnishing their personal bond, without any further condition."
As per the Court's order, all the applicants have been ordered to be released on regular bail on their executing personal bond of Rs.500/- (Rupees Five Hundred only), each.
It is worth emphasising that earlier in a momentous step, the Supreme Court (a Bench comprising of Justice Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and M R Shah) on 26th May took Suo Motu cognisance of the problems and miseries of migrant labourers who have been stranded in different parts of the country amid the Coronavirus-induced lockdown.
Further, on 9th June the Supreme Court had passed a slew of directions and had asked all the States and UTs to identify stranded migrants and transport them back to native places within 15 days.
Also, all the States were asked to consider withdrawal of all cases filed against migrants under the Disaster Management Act for lockdown violations, for attempting to walk to native places, crowding at stations etc.
On 19th June, it was specifically clarified by the Supreme Court that its June 9 order for transportation of migrant workers to their hometowns within 15 days was mandatory.
Further, it is imperative to note that the Gujarat High Court has not shirked from resolving the crisis of migrant workers which has been on-going since the announcement of country-wide lockdown on March 24.
On 12th May, the Gujarat High Court (a division bench comprising Justices J. B. Pardiwala and Ilesh J. Vora) had taken suo moto notice of the various news reports about the sufferings of migrant workers, daily wage earners and the poor people during the lockdown.
The Court didn't fail to remind the State government that "it is the the paramount duty of the State Authorities to ensure that its citizen do not go hungry".
The bench had also taken into consideration the news reports about the sufferings of stranded migrant workers and said,
"It appears that migrant workers are suffering the most. They are desperate to go back to their homes i.e. to their native States across the country", the Court said.
In the same matter, the bench had further observed:
"The State Government should keep in mind that they are at present dealing with the most downtrodden, underprivileged and weaker sections of the society. They are all afraid. They are not afraid of COVID19, but they are afraid that they would die due to starvation.
Not to forget, on 22nd May, while issuing a slew of directions for the management of COVID-19 situation and related issues in Gujarat, the High Court had recalled the role of the ship "Carpathia" which acted as a saviour of many victims of the Titanic tragedy.
Urging everyone to do the needful and to help the community in every manner possible, the Court had said, "We all should become the "Carpathia".
"It is paramount that in these unprecedented times of chaos, uncertainty and extreme stress we come together as a community to help the most vulnerable", the Court had said.
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