SC slams governments for being slow in providing relief to stranded migrant workers

The Court criticised the union, state governments and the Union Territories for not acting fast in arranging registration of data and delivering welfare schemes.
Migrant workers
Migrant workers
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The Supreme Court slammed the Union government, the State governments and the governments of the Union Territories for being "very slow" in the registration of unorganised workers. The court also directed the authorities to provide dry rations and make community kitchens operational for migrant workers stranded throughout the country amid COVID-19 pandemic.

The apex court said that expeditious completion of the process of registration of migrant and unorganised workers is necessary so that they are able to reap the benefit of different schemes of the Union government and states. “The process of registration is very slow. We are not happy with the efforts undertaken by the Centre and states on registration of unorganised workers,” a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M R Shah orally observed during the hearing.

The top court, which said that the process of registration must be expedited, directed that stranded migrant workers throughout the country should be provided dry ration under the ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat Scheme' or any other scheme found suitable by the Union government and the states. The bench also directed all the states and Union Territories (UTs) to make operational community kitchens for stranded migrant workers and said that wide publicity with respect to various schemes, including the places of community kitchens, be given so that needy persons may take the benefits. On the issue regarding direct cash transfer to unorganised workers, the bench said it is a matter of policy and scheme framed by each state and UTs. It added that no such direction can be issued by the court for any category of person unless they are covered by any scheme.

The apex court passed the order on an application filed by three activists who have sought directions to the Union government and states to ensure food security, cash transfers, transport facilities and other welfare measures for migrant workers who are facing distress due to the curbs clamped in several parts of the country amid the pandemic.

“We are of the view that for accessing of any benefit percolating from any scheme framed by the Centre or the states for the benefit of unorganized workers or migrant workers, registration of workers is essential, which registration shall facilitate the unorganized workers to assess the scheme and reap the benefit,” the bench said in its order.

“We also impress upon the Central government and the state government to complete the process of registration of organized workers at an early date so that unorganized workers are able to reap the benefit of different schemes of the centre and the states, which without proper registration and identity card seems to be difficult to implement on the ground,” it said.

The bench noted in its order that the Gujarat government, in its affidavit filed before the court, has stated that the Ministry of Labour and Employment had started the process of developing a comprehensive national database for unorganised workers, including migrant and construction workers. During the hearing, the bench asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, about it. Mehta said he would get instructions and apprise the court about it.

“We are of the view that registration of unorganized Workers should be completed as early as possible and there should be Common National Database for all organised workers situated in different states in the entire country and we are of the view that process which has been initiated by Ministry of Labour and Employment for creating a National Database for unorganised workers should be completed with collaboration and coordination of the states, which may serve registration for extending different schemes by the states and Centre,” the bench said. It said there should be a suitable mechanism to monitor and supervise whether the benefits of welfare schemes reach the beneficiaries. The bench asked all the states to file affidavits indicating the mechanism by which dry ration should be distributed to those migrant workers, who do not possess a ration card.

“Coming to the direction regarding community kitchen, it is the responsibility of the states/Union Territories to provide community kitchen to the stranded migrant workers, who have lost their employment and are in need of two meals a day, we direct all the states/Union Territories to make operational the community kitchen to the stranded migrant workers wherever they may situate in the country,” it said.

“We, thus, direct that migrant workers wherever stranded throughout the country should be provided the dry ration under the Atma Nirbhar Scheme or any other scheme is found suitable by the states/Centre,” it said. The bench, which posted the matter for hearing on June 11, said that state and UTs shall furnish the details of schemes regarding cash transfer.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the applicants, argued on the issue of disbursement of dry ration to stranded migrant workers, providing cooked food to them and also about cash transfer benefit. During the hearing, the bench said the process of registration of migrant workers is very slow and it must be expedited so that benefits of various schemes can be extended to them. The top court said it had last year passed directions regarding registration of migrant workers.

In May last year, the top court had taken suo motu cognizance of problems and miseries of migrant labourers amid pandemic and had passed a slew of directions, including asking the states not to charge fare from migrant workers and provide them food for free till they board trains or buses.

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