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Supreme Court Directs Various States To Provide Dry Ration, Open Community Kitchens & Facilitate Transportation of Stranded Migrant Workers

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In this Suo Motu case, the Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan A and MR Shah passed an order in response to the various applications led by the activists Harsh Mander, Anjali Bharadwaj, and Jagdeep Chokkar. Consequently, an Order was passed for the distribution of dry ration to the migrant workers stranded throughout the country under the Atma Nirbhar Scheme or any other scheme found suitable by the States/Centre. Further, the Bench conveyed that it is the responsibility of the States/Union Territories to provide Community Kitchen to the stranded migrant workers, who have lost their employment and need two meals a day. Also, the Bench directed that the registration of unorganized workers must be completed as soon as possible so that the benefits of the schemes could be availed.  

Petitioner’s Submissions

In this Suo Motu case, the Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan A and MR Shah passed an order in response to the various applications led by the activists Harsh Mander, Anjali Bharadwaj, and Jagdeep Chokkar. The same case was also listed on 13 May and was also given a command but the non-compliance of the same directions was noticed in the instant hearing. Earlier, the bench had directed the Governments of the NCT of Delhi, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh to provide dry ration and community kitchens for migrants stranded in National Capital Region. But as the Petitioner contended the same was not appropriated. Further, an affidavit was filed by the States, that included the steps taken concerning the transportation of migrant workers, their cooked food, and their dry rations. Further in the affidavit of Union of India, it was stated that because of the restrictions, the partial lockdown by few States although initially, there was an exodus of migrant workers especially in State of NCT of Delhi, which was satisfactorily dealt with by NCT of Delhi, State of U.P. and State of Haryana and in the NCR region as on date there was no problem regarding the transportation of stranded migrant workers. In this affidavit, it was also mentioned that the Ministry of Railways was advised as early as 20.04.2021 to manage the exodus of migrant workers from Delhi towards the east.

Learned Counsel, Shri Prashant Bhushan submitted that although directions were issued by this Court for disbursement of dry ration to the stranded migrant workers, the same has not yet started. Further, he submitted that none of the States had started the Atma Nirbhar Scheme for migrant workers with no ration cards. Besides this, Shri Bhushan submitted that an adequate number of centres were not established for the circulation of cooked food. He submitted that the NCT of Delhi started huge numbers of centres last year, whereas the present year’s number was comparatively less. Shri Bhushan submitted that the cash transfer benefit was not extended by several States. Furthermore, the State of NCT announced cash transfers only to construction workers whereas there was a large number of other categories like rickshaw pullers, street vendors, who all need cash transfers. Further, he contended that the unorganized workers were not being registered although more than a year had passed from starting the process. Moreover, the benefit of various schemes was being denied to the migrant workers. He submitted that the directions about dry rations and cooked food as was issued by Order dated 13.05.2021 should be extended to stranded workers wherever they are stranded throughout the country.

Petitioner’s Prayers

The Petitioners urged the Court for the appropriate distribution of dry- ration to the migrant workers as was previously directed by the same Court. Further, the Petitioners contended that the cash transfers were not extended to all categories of workers and thereby it should be extended to all categories. Also, the number of centres for cooking food was comparatively less this year than last year. So, the same should be considered. 

Court’s Observations

The Court observed that for accessing any benefit percolating from any scheme framed by the Centre or the States for the benefit of unorganized workers or migrant workers, registration of workers was essential, which shall facilitate the unorganized workers to assess the scheme and reap the benefit. Further, it was recorded that while different registration processes exist under various statutory acts, no State was able to give details about whether registration as a whole under the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008, was complete. It was noted that registration of unorganized Workers should be completed as early as possible and there should be Common National Database for all organized workers situated in different States in the entire country. It was viewed that process which was initiated by the Ministry of Labour and Employment for creating a National Database for unorganized workers should be completed with collaboration and coordination of the States, which may serve as registration for extending different schemes by the States and Centre. The Court further stated that Section 112 of the Code of Social Security, 2020 contemplated the registration of unorganized workers, gig workers, and platforms. Accordingly, the Order stated that instructions need to be obtained by the Solicitor General about the steps taken regarding the same.

Moreover, a suitable mechanism should be used to monitor and supervise whether the benefits of the welfare schemes reach the beneficiaries which may be from grassroots levels to higher authorities with names & places of beneficiaries so that the purposes for such schemes were achieved.

Further, the Court observed the matter of distribution of dry ration by the States to their migrant workers and the migrant workers in the NCR region as directed by the Court on 13.05.2021, let all States file affidavits indicating the mechanism by which the dry ration should be distributed to those migrant workers, who do not possess a ration card. Besides this, Whether the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Scheme of the Union of India, which was implemented for giving dry rations to migrant workers in May and June 2020 was to be utilized or some other scheme has to be utilized is a matter for States to make a decision but the dry ration has to be distributed to the migrant workers throughout the country by the States. Further, the Court observed one of the letters of the Union of India dated 26.04.2020, which was brought on record. It stated that efforts should be made by States/Union Territories to encourage migrant NFSA beneficiaries to use the facility of portability under the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) to those migrants. The Court thus directed that migrant workers wherever stranded throughout the country should be provided with the dry ration under the Atma Nirbhar Scheme or any other scheme that is found suitable by the States/Centre.

Coming to the prospect regarding Community Kitchen, the Court observed that it was the responsibility of the States/Union Territories to provide Community Kitchen to the stranded migrant workers, who have lost their employment and need two meals a day, and thereby directed all States/Union Territories to make operational the community kitchen to the stranded migrant workers wherever they may situate in the country. There shall be wide publicity concerning the various schemes including the places of community kitchens so that such needy persons may take benefits.

Further, approaching the submission of the Learned Counsel for the Applicant regarding direct cash transfer observed that the cash transfer was a matter of policy and scheme framed by each State/Union Territory and no direction for cash transfer can be issued by this Court to any category of a person unless they are covered by any scheme formulated by the State/Union Territory. In the affidavits, which are to be filed by the States/Union Territories, details of the schemes regarding cash transfer are also brought on record.

Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court directed for dry ration to be distributed to migrant workers stranded throughout the country under Atma Nirbhar Scheme or any other scheme found suitable by the States/Centre. The Central Government and the State Government was directed to complete the process of registration of organized workers at an early date so that unorganized workers were able to reap the benefit of different schemes of the Centre and the States, which without proper registration and identity card seems to be difficult to implement on the ground. A period of two weeks was granted to the Union of India to file an affidavit for the same. Further, all States/Union Territories were directed to make community kitchens operational for migrant workers wherever they may situate in the country, and for wide publicity to be given to the schemes and community kitchens. A direction was also given to the States/Union Territories to list in their Affidavits the details of the schemes regarding cash transfer.

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