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Migrant workers’ plight: Supreme Court flays Centre for ‘apathy’, seeks to fast-track aid


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Citing the survey carried out by National Statistics Office (NSO) in 2017-2018, the Bench noted that more than 1/4th population (38 crore workers) of the entire country is engaged in the unorganised sectors.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked all the states to implement the “One Nation, One Ration Card” scheme for migrant workers by July 31 so as to enable them to avail subsidised food from any part of the country. Castigating the Union ministry of labour and employment for its “apathy and lackadaisical attitude” in the setting up of a portal for registration of migrant workers belonging to the unorganised sectors, the top court also directed the Centre and states to complete the process of creating the portal in consultation with National Informatics Centre (NIC) by July 31. It directed that registration of all unorganised sector workers be completed at the earliest, but not later than December 31.

The court’s concern stems from the fact that the portal is virtually a prerequisite for the these workers to avail themselves of the benefits being extended under assorted welfare schemes, many announced in the wake of the pandemic.

“We direct all the States/Union Territories to register all establishments and license all contractors and ensure that statutory duty imposed on the contractors to give particulars of migrant workers is fully complied with,” a Bench led by justice Ashok Bhushan said.

“The Centre’s delay in not putting up a portal on unorganised workers and migrants shows it is not alive to the concerns of migrant workers and it is strongly disapproved,” the apex court said, while asking the Union government to allocate additional food grains to states.

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Under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), 5 kg of food grains are being provided free of cost to the National Food Security Act beneficiaries – the scheme which was originally for the May-June 2021 period, has recently been extended to November 2021, and is estimated to cost the government Rs 93,869 crore in FY22.

While passing a slew of directions, the top court directed all state governments to formulate schemes to provide dry rations to all migrant workers who do not possess ration cards till such time the Covid 19 pandemic is on, besides asking all the states to “run community kitchens to feed the migrants till the end of the pandemic”.

In FY21, as part of the Aatmanirbhar Bharat package, the Union government permitted an extra borrowing of 2% of GSDP (over customary 3%) by states, of which 25 bps was conditional on implementation of the scheme to help migrant labourers get access to subsidised food grains anywhere in the country. The ration card mobility was implemented by 17 states, enabling them to raise Rs 37,600 crore linked to the reform. West Bengal, Assam and Chhattisgarh have not implemented the scheme as yet, while Delhi has implemented it partially.

The SC also asked the Centre to allocate and distribute additional food grains to states whenever states ask for it. This follows an undertaking by the Centre that it is keen to distribute additional food grains to migrant labourers under schemes framed by states. “We further direct the 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 food grains from the Central Government.

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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, the judges said.

Refusing to pass any orders for Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) of money to migrant workers, the apex court ruled that though it won’t enter the domain of policy making, governments will have to ensure that no eligible beneficiary is denied the benefit of existing welfare schemes.

Citing the survey carried out by National Statistics Office (NSO) in 2017-2018, the Bench noted that more than 1/4th population (38 crore workers) of the entire country is engaged in the unorganised sectors.

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