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Central, State govts fail to comply by SC directions on migrant workers: Petition filed

By Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj, Jagdeep Chhokar* 

On January 18, 2022, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court (SC) regarding non-compliance by the Central and State governments with directions given in the suo motu migrant workers case. 
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’) had given several important directions to ensure food and social security of migrant workers including:
  • 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 the National Food Security Act (NFSA) as the coverage is still based on 2011 census. 
  • Direction to all State governments to bring 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
  • 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.
However, the Central government and most State governments have failed to implement and operationalise these directions.
The non-compliance is even more concerning as the country is once again facing rising number of Covid cases and nearly all States have put in place lockdowns, restrictions and curfews thereby exacerbating the economic distress and hardships of migrant workers, most of whom are in the unorganised sector and therefore have no social or financial security net to fall back on.
They are once again facing loss of livelihood, uncertainty and hunger.
The petition relies on information accessed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and replies from governments to legal notices sent regarding implementation of the directions to highlight the violation of the SC Judgement. On the issue of increasing coverage under the Public Distribution System, it is highlighted that the central government has till date not initiated any exercise to re-determine coverage.
In reply to an RTI asking about steps taken following the SC judgment, 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”.
As per news reports and press releases by the government it has been confirmed that the 2021 census has been delayed on account of Covid and the data is unlikely to come out over next two-three years.
The failure of the government to initiate the re-determination of coverage is in flagrant violation of the directions of the SC which were in the context of the pandemic and suffering caused due to exclusion from food security and hence required urgent time-bound action.
Following the June 29, 2021 judgment, legal notices were sent to all the States to ensure time-bound compliance with the directions of the SC, including the direction to State governments to put in place a scheme for providing dry rations to migrant workers who do not possess ration cards.
No scheme has been put in place for equally poor and vulnerable families who do not possess ration cards
Only five States replied to the legal notices of which only the States of Odisha, Delhi and Assam provided details of scheme formulated by them. Further, an application was filed under the RTI Act to the Central government seeking details of which States asked for additional foodgrains to give to migrant workers and whether the central government supplied the grain.
The reply revealed that as of September 2021 only two State governments viz Telangana and Meghalaya sought additional food grains for providing rations to migrant workers and even that was not provided by the central government.
Therefore, it appears that most states and the Centre are not complying with the directions of the SC in terms of providing rations to migrant workers.
The petition notes that the Central government is well aware of the distress and has therefore extended Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana (PMGKAY) till March 2022 vide which 80 crore people who possess ration cards are entitled to receive 5 kg of additional rations (over and above the entitlement of five kg per person). However, no scheme has been put in place for equally poor and vulnerable families who do not possess ration cards.
The petition seeks immediate implementation of the directions contained in the judgement dated June 29, 2021 and that the central and State governments file reports regarding the status of implementation.
The petition was mentioned by counsel Prashant Bhushan before the bench of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) on January 19, 2022 for listing the matter and the CJI indicated that he will look into it.
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*Intervenors in suo motu petition (civil) 6/2020. A copy of the petition can be accessed here

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