New Delhi, June 30 : The Supreme Court noted on Tuesday that there are around 38 migrant workers in the country, as it directed the state governments, which have not implemented the ‘One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme so far, to implement it by July 31.
Passing a slew of directions for the benefit of migrant workers amid the Covid pandemic, a bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R. Shah said: “The states, which have not yet implemented the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme are directed to implement the same by not later than 31.07.2021.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, had told the top court that Assam, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and West Bengal are yet to implement the ONORC scheme.
The bench cited a survey conducted by the National Statistics Office (NSO) in 2017-2018, stating that there are around 38 crore migrant workers in the country — more than 1/4th of the population of the entire country — who are engaged in the unorganised sectors.
The bench said the Parliament has enacted various legislations to safeguard the interest and welfare of the migrant labourers, adding that the Right to Life as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution gives right to every human being to live a life of dignity with access to at least the bare necessities of life.
The bench observed that the Constitution does not have any explicit provision regarding Right to Food and insisted that providing food security to the impoverished persons is the bounden duty of all the state governments.
“The fundamental Right to Life as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution may be interpreted to include Right to Live with human dignity, which may include the Right to Food and other basic necessities,” said the bench.
The Parliament with an aim to provide food and nutritional security to the people had enacted the National Food Security Act, 2013, noted the bench.
In an 80-page judgment, the bench also directed the states/Union Territories to run community kitchens at prominent places where large number of migrant labourers are found, and continue them at least till the pandemic doesn’t subside.
The bench also directed the states to bring a scheme for distribution of dry ration to migrant labourers, for which they can seek additional food grains from the Centre.
The bench insisted that such a scheme should be implemented before July 31, and it should run till the current pandemic continues.
“We direct the Central government and the Department of Food and Public Distribution (Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution) to allocate and distribute food grains as per the demand for additional food-grains from the states for disbursement of dry food grains to migrant labourers,” added the bench.
The bench also directed all states/UTs to register all establishments and license all contractors under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 and ensure that the statutory duty imposed on the contractors to give particulars of the migrant workers is fully complied with.
Insisting on developing a national portal for migrant workers, the bench said that only after registration of the workers, the states and the Centre will be able to extend the benefits of the welfare schemes to them.
The top court pointed out that there is an urgency to get the portal finalised and operational, given the pandemic situation and the dire need of unorganised workers to receive the benefits.
“The attitude of the Ministry of Labour and Employment in not completing the module even though directed as early as on 21.08.2018 shows that it is not alive to the concern of the migrant workers and the non-action of the Ministry is strongly disapproved,” added the bench.
The bench directed the Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Employment to ensure that the National Data Base for Unorganised Workers (NDUW) portal is finalised, and implementation of the portal commences on or before July 31.
The top court order came on an application filed by activists Anjali Bharadwaj, Harsh Mander and Jagdeep Chhokar in a suo moto case related to the problems and miseries of the migrant labourers, seeking the implementation of welfare measures for them during the second wave of Covid-19.