The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Centre, States to complete the process of the portal for a national database for unorganised workers and implement one nation one ration card scheme by 31 July.
The bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Vineet Saran, and M.R. Shah directed the Centre to distribute additional foodgrains to states as per demand raised by the States. Further, it asked States to set up appropriate schemes for the distribution of dry rations to migrant workers. All those schemes to be implemented by July 31, 2021. All states to implement one nation one ration card scheme by July 31, 2021. All States/UTs to register all contractors as soon as possible and ensure registration of workers. The Court has also directed the States to set up community kitchens for persons and all those schemes to continue at least till this pandemic continues.
The Apex Court has pronounced its judgment in a suo motu matter titled “In Re: Problems and Miseries of Migrant Labourers” dealing with the problems and miseries of migrant labourers who had been stranded in the different parts of the country amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The Court had reserved its verdict on June 11, 2021.
While reserving the judgment, the Apex Court had directed the West Bengal government to immediately implement a one nation one ration card scheme. When the counsel of the State of West Bengal said it has an Aadhaar seeding issue, the bench replied that no excuse will be considered and that the state must implement the ONORC scheme.
The bench had also pulled the central government for not been able to make software for the collection of data related to information of migrant workers and said, “how much time will the central government take to develop the software for the compilation of data of migrant workers, the amount to the tune of 470 crore has been release four months back and still you are not able to develop a database.”
Mr. Dushyant Dave, who appeared for the applicant, submitted that Central Government is providing food to the migrant workers who have ration card but it also has the duty to provide food to migrant workers who do not hold a ration card and said, “the migrant workers who do not have ration cards should not be left to die.”
The bench had observed that it is necessary to have a Common National Database for all unorganised workers situated in different States in the entire country and that the process initiated by Labour Ministry should be completed with collaboration and coordination of States.
During the lockdown, when migrant workers were left with no other option rather than to walk on their foot to their respective villages. When this crisis intensified then it prompted 20 Senior Advocates including P Chidambaram, Anand Grover, Indira Jaising, Mihir Desai among others to write a letter to the Supreme Court on 25 May 2020. This late-night letter asserted that the Court’s non-interference violated the fundamental rights of migrant labourers. They stressed that the plight of migrant labourers is not a mere ‘policy issue’, but a human rights crisis. The Advocates urged the Court to intervene and grant free transportation, food, and shelter.
Thereafter on 26th May, 2020 the Supreme Court in In Re: Problems And Miseries Of Migrant Labourers took suo motu cognizance of the ‘problems and miseries of migrant labourers who had been stranded in different parts of the country.’ The three-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MR Shah issued notice to the Central and State Governments.
On June 14, the Central Government through its affidavit informed the Supreme Court that the claim of the Aam Aadmi Party regarding the launch of the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ (ONORC) plan in the NCT of Delhi is “misleading”, as they have claimed to implement it only in Circle 63 Seemapuri with only a handful of transactions with 42 ePoS machines which cannot be considered an implementation of ONORC.
“Further, unless the national portability transactions are rolled out formally in all Fair Price Shops (FPSs) of all Circles of NCT Delhi, in which more than 2000 ePoS machines have been supplied and waiting for operation, it cannot be considered as implementation of ONORC,” the Centre submitted through its affidavit in the Supreme Court.
With regard to the non-implementation of the ONORC in NCT of Delhi, the Centre claimed that a very large number of inter-state migrants are present all across Delhi (such as migrant workers, numerous street dwellers, rag-pickers, migratory labourers, construction workers, rickshaw pullers, auto/taxi drivers, etc.) who do not have access to their National Food Security Act (NFSA) food grains, being away from their own villagers/hometowns, are not able to take the benefit of their quota of subsidised NFSA food grains in Delhi.
“As a part of the ongoing technology driven reforms under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in the Country, the Union of India had introduced the ‘One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) plan’ for the nation-wide portability of the ration cards under the NFSA. The ONORC plan aims to empower all NFSA migrant beneficiaries to access their PDS/NFSA food grains from any fair price shops (FPS) of their choice anywhere in the Country by using same/existing ration card with biometric authentication. In short, ONORC makes food security portable.”
The Centre submitted that despite the multitude of Covid-19 related challenges in the past year, a total of 32 States/UTs covering around 69 crore NFSA beneficiaries, i.e. 86% NFSA population in the country were swiftly brought under the ONORC plan by December 2020. “The integration of remaining 4 States/UT of Assam, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and West Bengal is expected to be achieved, depending upon the technical readiness of these States to implement the portability of ration cards. The onus on implementing ONORC is on these states,” it said.
The Centre has further submitted that as part of additional food security measures under Covid-19, under phase III of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY-III), allocation of food grains have been made to all the States/UTs for free of cost distribution to all the AAY and PHH beneficiaries from Central Pool at Rs 5 kg per person per month for two months i.e. May and June 2021. The said allocation under PMGKAY-III has been made to all States/UTs in addition to their respective normal TPDS allocation as per NFSA, 2013. This scheme covers about 80 crore beneficiaries and extended upto November 2021 by the Prime Minister.
The Centre has also submitted that in addition to the above measures, it has undertaken/extended various schemes to enable all States/UTs to obtain any additional quantities of food grains, as per their requirements, under the Open Market Sales Scheme (D) from FCI at subsidized rates for various categories as under:
(A) In view of resurgence of Covid, with the objective to make wheat and rice stocks easily available in open market, Government of India has liberalised OMSS (D) policy for the year 2021-22. Under the policy, rates have been made attractive and uniform rate has been fixed pan India during Covid period.
(B) The Government of India has extended the scheme of supplying food grains to Charitable/Non- Governmental Organizations etc. engaged in relief operations/ running relief camps for migrant labourers/ vulnerable groups due to present Covid situation.
(C) The Government of India has extended the scheme for food grains for all the beneficiaries, who are not covered under NFSA and to whom ration cards have been issued by the State Governments under their own scheme at Rs 5 per kg per person per month.
(D) The Government of India has extended the Scheme for Small (Private) traders for Wheat and sale of Wheat & Rice to State/UT Governments under retail sale.