The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed that by July 31, 2021, all states and Union Territories must implement the 'One Nation One Ration Card' scheme that allows migrant labourers to get ration benefits from any part of the country, irrespective of the place where their ration card is registered.
'One Nation One Ration Card' is a scheme implemented by the Government of India providing for nation-wide portability of National Food Security Act Ration card.
A Bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice MR Shah said 'One Nation One Ration Card' is an "important citizen-centric reform".
"Its implementation ensures availability of ration to beneficiaries under National Food Security Act (NFSA) and other welfare schemes, especially to the migrant workers and their families at any Fair Price Shop across the country," the Bench said.
"We, thus, are of the view that those States who have not yet implemented One Nation One Ration Card scheme should implement the same. We direct the States who have not implemented the One Nation One Ration Card scheme to implement the scheme by not later than July 31, 2021," ordered the court.
The top court also directed the Centre and state governments to provide dry ration and continue community kitchens for migrant workers till the pandemic continues.
The top court further directed the Centre and States to complete registration of all migrant workers including those in unorganised sectors positively by July 31, 2021.
Further, the Centre was asked to develop a portal for registration under National Database for Unorganised Workers (NDUW) in consultation with National Informatics Centre (NIC) to register unorganised and migrant workers and complete the portal and commence the process by July 31, 2021.
When the unorganised workers are waiting for registration and are waiting to reap the benefit of various welfare schemes of the States and Centre, the "apathy and lackadaisical attitude by the Ministry of Labour and Employment is unpardonable", the apex court said.
The Bench said there was urgency in the portal to be finalised and implemented looking to the pandemic and dire need of unorganised workers to receive the benefit. "The attitude of Ministry of Labour and Employment in not completing the module even though directed as early as on August 21, 2018, shows that Ministry is not alive to the concern of the migrant workers and the non-action of the Ministry is strongly disapproved," the order stated.
"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 Bench noted in its judgement.
The directions of the apex court came while delivery verdict in the application filed in the already pending case registered by the court suo moto relating to the welfare of migrant workers during the lockdown due to COVID-19,
The Bench also directed the Centre to allocate and distribute additional food grains as per demands of states for migrants. State governments and Union Territories shall bring a scheme to provide dry ration to migrant workers, it added.
"We direct the Central Government, Department of Food and Public Distribution (Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution) to allocate and distribute food grains as per the demand of additional food grains from the States for disbursement of dry food grains to migrant labourers," stated the Bench in its order.
It further asked states and 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 statutory duty imposed on the contractors to give particulars of migrant workers is fully complied with.
The Bench noted that when the migrant labourers form more than 1/4th population of the country, all Governments/authorities have to take special care regarding the welfare of these migrant workers/labourers.
"The Right to Life as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution gives the right to every human being to live a life of dignity with access to at least bare necessities of life. To provide food security to impoverished persons is the bounden duty of all states and Governments," it stated.
In March, the top court had ordered that states and Union Territories should provide dry ration and run community kitchens for migrant labourers who are stranded due to the COVID and the lockdown.
The bench had also directed the Centre and the States to complete the registration of migrants and unorganized workers so that they can avail various statutory welfare schemes.
In May 2020 the top court took suo moto cognizance of the problems of migrant workers during the national lockdown. (ANI)