“To provide food security to impoverished persons is the bounden duty of all States and Governments.”
Supreme Court: The bench of Ashok Bhushan* and MR Shah, JJ has issued extensive directions to ensure the welfare of the migrant labourers who have been severely affected due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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. The migrant labourers are particularly vulnerable to the economic regression.
The Court, hence, noticed that,
“Our Constitution enjoins that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are for promoting welfare of the people by securing social and economic justice to the weaker section so as to sub-serve the common good to minimize inequalities in income and endeavour to eliminate inequality in status.”
Hence, in order to ensure the unorganised/migrant labourers have access to at-least bare necessities of life, the Court issued the following directions:
(i) Portal for for registration of the unorganized labourers/migrant workers
- The Central Government to develop the Portal in consultation with National Informatics Centre (NIC) for registration of the unorganized labourers/migrant workers.
- The Central Government as well as the respective States and the Union Territories to complete the process of Portal for registration under National Data Base for Unorganised Workers (NDUW Project) as well as implement the same, which by all means may commence not later than 31.07.2021.
- The process of registration of the unorganized labourers/migrant workers is completed at the earliest, but not later than 31.12.2021.
- All the concerned States/Union Territories and the Licence Holders/Contractors and others to cooperate with the Central Government to complete the process of registration of migrant workers and unorganized labourers so that the benefits of the welfare schemes declared by the Central Government/State Governments/ Union Territories be available to migrant workers and unorganized labourers for whose benefits the welfare schemes are declared.
(ii) The Central Government having undertaken to distribute additional quantity of foodgrains as demanded by the States/Union Territories for distribution to migrant labourers under some Scheme framed by the States, we direct the Central Government, Department of Food and Public Distribution (Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution) to allocate and distribute foodgrains as per demand of additional food-grains from the States for disbursement of dry foodgrains to migran labourers.
(iii) States to bring in place an appropriate scheme for distribution of dry ration to migrant labourers for which it shall be open for States to ask for allocation of additional foodgrains from the Central Government, which, as directed above, shall provide the additional foodgrains to the State. The State shall consider and bring an appropriate Scheme, which may be implemented on or before 31.07.2021. Such scheme may be continued and operated till the current pandemic (Covid-19) continues.
(iv) The States, who have not yet implemented “One Nation One Ration Card” scheme are directed to implement the same by not later than 31.07.2021.
(v) The Central Government may undertake exercise under Section 9 of the National Food Security Act, 2013 to re-determine the total number of persons to be covered under the Rural and Urban areas of the State.
(vi) All the States/Union Territories to register all establishments and license all contractors under the Act, 1979 and ensure that statutory duty imposed on the contractors to give particulars of migrant workers is fully complied with.
(vii) The State/Union Territories are directed to run community kitchens at prominent places where large number of migrant labourers are found for feeding those migrant labourers who does not have sufficient means to procure two meals a day. The running of the community kitchen should be continued at-least till pandemic (Covid-19) continues.
[IN RE: PROBLEMS AND MISERIES OF MIGRANT LABOURERS, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 441, decided on 29.06.2021]
*Judgment by: Justice Ashok Bhushan
Appearances before the Court:
Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General for India, Dushyant Dave and Colin Gonsalves, senior counsel