Implement One Nation One Ration Card Scheme By 31 July So No Migrant Worker Goes Hungry: SC To Centre, States
The states/union territories have to make extra efforts to reach migrant labourers so that no one is denied two meals a day, the court said.
The Supreme Court, in a judgment yesterday (29 July), asked the centre as well as the state governments to complete the implementation of One Nation One Ration Card scheme by 31 July.
The One Nation One Ration Card scheme allows migrant labourers covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) to access food at any fair price shop with his or her ration card in any part of the country, regardless of the hometown.
The scheme makes the benefits under the NFSA portable, and allows a migrant to buy ration from any fair price shop, as opposed to the one in his/her own region.
The court passed the judgement in the context of the hardships faced by the migrant workers amidst the coronavirus pandemic. In the light of the second wave, lockdown measures were imposed across the country, depriving the migrants of job opportunities, as well as the transportation to go back to their home towns.
“Both, in the first and the second wave of the pandemic, migrant workers had been exposed to financial and other forms of hardships due to their limited access and claim to the welfare resources offered by the States/Union Territories. Migrant labourers are particularly vulnerable to the economic regression,” the court noted.
During the first wave last year, the migrant exodus had generated a barrage of criticism for both the centre as well as the state governments.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah said in an 80-page judgment that a government cannot “abdicate” its duties to feed migrant workers, especially during a pandemic, merely because they did not have ration cards.
“There is a large number of such migrants who do not possess any card. Their above disability is due to their poverty and lack of education. The State cannot abdicate its duty towards such persons, especially in the wake of the pandemic where large numbers of migrant workers are not able to get jobs which may satisfy their basic needs,” said the judgement, as per a The Hindu report.
Migrant workers have made “considerable contributions” to the country’s growth and economic development, the court observed, and said that it was the “bounden duty” of the centre and the states to ensure that the estimated 38 crore migrant workers - one-fourth of the country’s population - don't go hungry during the pandemic.
“The states/union territories have to make extra efforts to reach migrant labourers so that no migrant labourer is denied two meals a day,” Justice Bhushan, who wrote the judgment, said.
Since it is primarily the domain of the state governments, the court ordered them to frame schemes to distribute dry rations to migrant workers by 31 July, adding that the centre should supply whatever additional quantity of food grains a state demanded.
The court also directed the governments to ensure that community kitchens in prominent places to feed workers continue throughout the pandemic, and allocate additional food grains to them.
The right to food, one of the “bare necessities of life”, was an intrinsic part of the right to live with dignity, said the court, and suggested the union government to “redetermine” the beneficiaries under the Food Security Act in both the urban and rural areas.
The court also slammed the Ministry of Labour for being unable to complete the work of the Rs 45.39-crore National Database for Unorganised Workers (NDUW), calling it “unpardonable apathy”. The court had ordered the Ministry to finalise the NDUW module way back in 2018.
The portal is meant to register and identify migrant workers and unorganised labourers, and ensure the benefits of various schemes to them.
The government had submitted to the court that the work on the portal couldn't be finished due to “software” problems. The court said that the government should ready the portal by 31 July, and complete the registration of workers by 31 December this year otherwise all its “welfare schemes” would be reduced to “tall claims on paper”.
The court also said an unorganised worker was entitled to direct bank transfer if there was a state policy.
The Bench directed the States/Union Territories to register establishments and license contractors under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 and ensure that they provided the authorities complete details of the workers employed with them.
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