COVID-19| Dry Ration/Community kitchen for stranded migrant workers; Common National Database for all organised workers: Supreme Court issues directions

Supreme Court: The bench of Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah, JJ has directed that a Common National Database for all organised workers situate in different States in the entire country, which may serve registration for extending different schemes by the States and Centre, be created at the earliest so as to ensure that the organised workers are able to reap the benefits of the Government Schemes.

“…for accessing of 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 is essential, which registration shall facilitate the unorganized workers to assess the scheme and reap the benefit.”

Currently there is no uniform process of registration. There are separate registration of workers under the Building and Other Construction Workers’(Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996. Under the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008, all States have framed the Rules and some States have also undertaken registration under the aforesaid Acts but no State has given any details as to whether registration under the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008 is complete.

The Court, however, noticed that the Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008 now stand repealed by the Code of Social Security Act, 2020 (Act No.36 of 2020 published in the Gazette of India on 29.09.2020). By Section 164 of the Code, several enactments have been repealed including the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008 and the Building and other Construction Workers’ (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996. In Section 112 of the Code of Social Security, 2020, registration of unorganized workers, gig workers and platform workers is contemplated. The Court, hence, asked the Union of India to apprise it on steps which are proposed to be taken n this regard.

The Court also asked the Central Government and the State Government to complete the process of registration of organized workers at an early date so that unorganized workers are 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 detailed affidavit is to be filed within 2 weeks.

Further, there shall be suitable mechanism to monitor and supervise whether the benefits of the welfare schemes reach the beneficiaries which may be from grassroot levels to higher authorities with names & places of beneficiaries so that the purposes for such schemes are floated is achieved.

The Court also asked all the States to file affidavits indicating the mechanism by which the dry ration should be distributed to those migrant workers, who does not possess a ration card.

“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 is to be utilized or some other scheme has to be utilized is a matter for States to take a decision but the dry ration has to be distributed to the migrant workers throughout the country by the States.”

The Court, however, directed that migrant workers wherever stranded throughout the country should be provided the dry ration under the Atma Nirbhar Scheme or any other scheme is found suitable by the States/Centre.

Regarding Community Kitchen, the Court noticed 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 are in need of two meals a day and hence, they should make operational the community kitchen to the stranded migrant workers wherever they may situate in the country.

“There shall be wide publicity with respect to the various schemes including the places of community kitchens so that such needy persons may in fact take benefits.”

Regarding direct cash transfer to unorganised workers, the Court said that

“… cash transfer is 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 person unless they are covered by any scheme formulated by the State/Union Territory.”

[IN RE : PROBLEMS AND MISERIES OF MIGRANT LABOURERS, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 398, order dated 24.05.2021]

For petitioner: Advocate Prashant Bhushan,

For Union of India: SG Tushar Mehta and ASG Aishwarya Bhati

For States: Maninder Singh for the State of Gujarat, Garima Prashad for the State of U.P., Ranjit Kumar for the State of Bihar, Rahul Chitnis for the State of Maharashtra and Sanjay Kumar Visen for the State of Haryana.

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