Chennai: Taking judicial notice of Indians getting stranded, exploited, cheated, died/killed due to many reasons in various countries, the Madras high court has posed 25 queries relating to Indian workers employed in abroad, to be answered by the Union government and Director General of Shipping on or before March 4, 2019.
A division bench comprising Justices N. Kirubakaran and S.S.Sundar posed the queries while hearing a petition, which sought a direction to the authorities to rescue 4 Indians working as seafarers in a shipping company, went missing, after the ship which was carrying LPG gas from Mumbai to Russia, while sailing near about 150 km away from Kerch Strait Marine Casualty at Russia, said to have been blasted due to leakage of LPG gas or some other reasons.
The bench said the apathy of the governmental agencies causes worry to workers families and there were no proper machineries available even to express their grievances. In case of any casualty or in case of any accident, the people were compelled to come before this court for appropriate relief. While dealing with a similar case, the Supreme Court had directed the government to amend the Merchant Shipping Act and the 2005 Rules in a manner they deem proper to ensure that the life of seafarers employed in different ships on high seas were made more secure and sage in cases of loss of life, their kith and kin were paid adequate amount of compensation.
The said judgment was passed by the Supreme Court as early as on October 18, 2012 and "it is not known as to whether the respondents (authorities) have taken effective steps to set up an Indian Maritime Casualty Investigation Cell?, any amendments have been made, pursuant to the Supreme Court judgment in Merchant Shipping (Recruitment and Placement of Seafarers) Rules, 2005 and also the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 to ensure that life of Seafarers in different ships on high seas were made more secure and sage and in case of loss of life, their kith and kin were paid adequate amount of compensation", the bench added.
The bench said the very facts of the case would indicate that nothing has been done pursuant to the directions of the Supreme Court. The very sorry state of affairs continues. Lakhs and lakhs of youngsters were going out of the country to foreign countries on employment and those youngsters and their family members' interest should be safeguarded. The Indian foreign workers were vulnerable to abuses. There were many cases of abuses in violation of basic human rights, violation of their contracts and misappropriation of their wages by foreign employer.
If no effective steps were taken, precious lives of our Indians as well as their family members would be affected and therefore, the respondents (authorities) have to response as to whether the order of the Supreme court has been complied with by making suitable amendments and also any investigating agency has been set up as proposed in the judgment, the bench added.
The bench said it was very pathetic to note that the family members were clueless in case of any accident, any untoward incident as what happened to the members of the families in the abroad. Many times Chief Minister, ministers of the states have to take up the issues with the Indian Government due to non-response of the Indian missions in case of problems to the Indian workers. It was being said language was one of the major issues for non-response of the Indian missions. In Gulf countries about 75 percent workers were Keralites. Similarly in Singapore and Malaysia, majority of workers were Tamils.
The Central Government should see to that in those countries, it should appoint officials who were well versed in those languages. Moreover, majority of the workers were poor illiterate workers and they could speak only in their respective mother tongue. Hence language issue was a major issue.
"In view of the above, the respondents (authorities) are directed to collect, analyze and prepare a report with reference to the following information (queries) and file the same with an affidavit of a responsible officer from the Office of the Director General of Shipping on or before March 4, 2019 before this court", the bench added and posed the 25 queries.
Coming to the case on hand, the bench said since the fate of the 4 Indians and two persons were not known, the respondents (authorities) were directed to give the report about the whereabouts of the persons by February 14, 2019....