SC issues notice in activists’ application regarding issue of food and social security of migrant workers

Though govt is aware of continuing distress, it has not put in place any scheme for poor families who do not possess ration cards, said Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj and Jagdeep Chhokar

Supreme Court
Supreme Court

NH Web Desk

The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice in an application seeking implementation and status reports from the Centre and state governments on the directions issued by the SC in its judgment dated June 29, 2021 in the migrant workers case (Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil ) No. 6 of 2020, ‘In Re: Problems And Miseries Of Migrant Labourers’). The application has been filed by noted activists Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj and Jagdeep Chhokar.

The SC had given several important directions to ensure food and social security of migrant workers including:

a. Direction to the Central government to undertake exercise under Section 9 of the National Food Security Act, 2013 to re-determine the total number of persons to be covered in Rural and Urban areas of the State under the Public Distribution System of NFSA as the coverage is still based on 2011 census.

b. Direction to all state governments to put in place an appropriate scheme for distribution of dry ration to migrant workers without insistence on furnishing of identity proof and continue such scheme till the time the pandemic continues.

c. Direction to all state governments to run community kitchens at prominent places where large number of migrant labourers are found to provide cooked food and continue this till such time the pandemic continues.

The application pointed out lack of compliance by the Centre and state government of these directions.

On the issue of increasing coverage, the Central government has till date not initiated any exercise to re-determine coverage. In reply to an RTI asking about steps taken, Central government has stated: “Any revision in the state/UT-wise coverage shall be possible after the data of next Census is published. Judgment passed by Hon’ble Supreme Court is being examined at present”.

In a communication sent to the PM by intervenors, it was pointed out that census 2021 is delayed on account of COVID and is unlikely to come out over next 2-3 years. If the population projection estimates for 2021 are used, a total of 91.5 crore people would be covered within the PDS under the NFSA i.e. 10.2 crore people more than the current coverage, they said.

The direction of the SC was in the context of the pandemic and suffering caused due to exclusion from food security and hence required urgent time-bound action.

On the issue of direction to states to adopt scheme for dry rations, legal notices were sent to all the states to ensure time-bound compliance. Only 5 states replied of which only the states of Odisha, Delhi and Assam provided details of scheme formulated by them.

An RTI was filed to Central government asking which states asked for additional foodgrains to give to migrant workers and the reply said only 2 states – Telangana and Meghalaya – had sought additional food grains for providing to migrant workers and even that was not provided by the Central government.

Therefore, it is clear that there is non-compliance with the directions.

It is pertinent to note that during the 3rd wave of COVID in January 2022, there were again restrictions – curfews, lockdowns, closures of offices, workplaces, markets all over the country, thereby impacting livelihoods and lives of marginalised sections of society especially migrant workers. The application was filed in the month of January.

The Central government has extended Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana (PMGKAY) till September 2022 vide which all ration cardholders will receive additional 5 kgs of grains per person(over and above the ration entitlement of 5 kgs per person).

The official press release regarding the Cabinet decision to extend PMGKAY notes, “Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly abated and economic activities are gathering momentum, this PM-GKAY extension would ensure that no poor household goes to bed without food during this time of recovery.”

Therefore, though the government is well aware of the continuing distress; however, it has not put in place any scheme for equally poor and vulnerable families who do not possess ration cards, said a statement issued by activists Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj and Jagdeep Chhokar.

The petitioners were represented by advocates Prashant Bhushan and Cheryl D’Souza. The matter is now listed for May 18.

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