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Implement 'one nation, one ration card scheme' by July 31: Apex court to States

Krishnadas Rajagopal New Delhi | Updated on June 29, 2021

‘Ensure none of the 38 crore migrant workers goes hungry during pandemic’

A government cannot “abdicate” its duty to feed migrant workers, especially during a pandemic, merely because they do not have ration cards, the Supreme Court said in a judgment on Tuesday.

Ordering all States to fully implement the One Nation, One Ration Card scheme by July 31, the said, “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,” a Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah observed in an 80-page judgment.

The court set a deadline of July 31 for the Centre and States to ensure its “bounden duty” that none among the estimated 38 crore migrant workers, which form one-fourth the country’s population, go hungry during the pandemic. These workers too have made “considerable contributions” to India’s growth and economic development.

‘Two meals a day’

It ordered State governments to frame their schemes to distribute dry ration to migrant workers by July 31. “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.

The Centre has to supply whatever additional quantity of food grains the State demands. The allocation of additional food grains and running of community kitchens in prominent places to feed workers should continue throughout the pandemic, the court directed.

Right to food, one of the “bare necessities of life”, is an intrinsic part of the right to live with dignity, the court reminded the government.

The ONORC scheme allows migrant labourers covered under the National Food Security Act to access food at any fair price shop across the country.

It slammed the Labour Ministry for its “unpardonable apathy” in not completing work on the ₹45.39-crore National Database for Unorganised Workers (NDUW) portal to register and identify migrant workers and unorganised labourers to ensure their rights, welfare and food security. The court had ordered the Ministry to finalise the NDUW module way back in 2018. The Centre has blamed the delay on “software” problems.

‘National portal’

The Court ordered the Centre to “get its act together” and complete the work on the national portal by July 31. The Labour Secretary has to file a report in a month thereafter. The Centre should complete the registration of workers by December 31 this year or all their “welfare schemes” would be considered “tall claims on paper”. “The Ministry is not alive to the concerns of the migrant workers. The non-action of the Ministry is strongly disapproved,” Justice Bhushan observed.

The court said an unorganised worker is entitled to direct bank transfer if there is a State policy.

“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. It suggested that the Centre “re-determine” the beneficiaries under the Food Security Act in both urban and rural areas.

The Bench directed 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 provide authorities complete details of the workers employed with them.

 

Published on June 29, 2021

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