Centre's attitude toward migrant workers unpardonable, says Supreme Court
The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed all states and union territories to implement the 'One Nation One Ration' scheme by July 31, 2021. The apex court was hearing a suo motu case regarding the welfare of migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The court also stated that the central government's "lackadaisical attitude (regarding migrant workers) is unpardonable." Here are more details.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah held that states/UTs should introduce a scheme to provide dry ration to migrant workers amid COVID-19. Activists Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj, and Jagdeep Chhokar had moved an urgent application before the court. The court directed the Centre to develop a web portal for unorganized/migrant workers along with the National Informatics Centre by July 31, 2021.
During the hearing, the SC questioned the Centre why the National Database of Unorganised Workers was not ready despite its own orders toward the same. The court said, "What is your project for the National Database of Unorganised Workers? Rs. 417 crore has been released but not even a module is created. How much time will you take? The process has not even started."
"The Centre's delay in not putting up a portal on unorganized workers and migrants shows it is not alive to the concerns of migrant workers and it is strongly disapproved," it said, adding that states must "run community kitchens to feed the migrants till the end of the pandemic." The bench said, "Lackadaisical attitude by the Ministry of Labour and Employment is unpardonable."
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the court that the database will take another three-four months. However, the bench replied saying that it should be done more quickly as it is only a module and the states need not be consulted at this stage. Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves asked the court to reject the "excuse" as "three years have passed and nothing has been done."
Gonsalves said, "Every state has made a state-level portal. That's why states are saying there are workers but they can't be linked to the central government portal." In October 2018, the Centre had declared the portal ready and asked states to upload data, Gonsalves recalled.
States have been imposing local restrictions/lockdowns more cautiously this year to limit COVID-19, the applicants argued. However, "they have offered little welfare support to working classes and migrants whose livelihoods are at sea once again," they said. "This has triggered a second exodus of migrant workers who are flocking to train and bus terminals in urban centers in a bid to get back home."
Meanwhile, senior advocate Dushyant Dave demanded that the Aatmanirbhar Bharat scheme should be extended. The PM Garib Kalyan Yojna should also be extended to those migrant workers who do not have ration cards, Dave argued.