SC to pass order today on plea seeking to direct Centre, state govt’s to ensure ration, transport for migrant labourers

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it will pass the order today itself on the steps to be taken by Centre and state governments to ensure the migrant and stranded labourers get ration, food security and transportation to go back home.

A Bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice MR Shah observed that it is inclined to direct starting of community kitchens and dry rations in Delhi-NCR for migrant labourers so that nobody starves.

The Bench said it will seek responses from state governments on their compliance with the directions passed by the Supreme Court last year for the relief of migrants.

The apex court said it will upload the order on the website at 4 pm today.

The court was hearing a plea seeking directions to ensure the migrant and stranded labourers get ration and food security and are able to travel back to their homes at nominal cost.

The plea filed by activists Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj and Jagdeep Chhokar sought urgent directions from the court to ensure food security, cash transfers and other measures for the migrant labour as well as provision of transport facility for their travel back home.

The application was filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan in the 2020 suo motu case on the Covid-19 crisis.

During the hearing, advocate Prashant Bhushan contended that they are seeking directions to the Central government to resume its scheme of providing dry rations under the Atmanirbhar Bharat scheme to all 8 crore migrant labourers who are not covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) or State PDS cards and were identified under the said scheme last year.

He said the scheme was started last year after the migrant crisis escalated but was kept operational only for two months till June 2020, and was discontinued thereafter, and now they have again lost jobs and do not have money.

At least the Atmanirbhar Bharat scheme and migrant trains should be taken care of, Bhushan argued.

Justice MR Shah told Bhushan that the mindset of a worker in a lockdown situation will be to return to his village. The judge also said that many workers have gone back.

The Bench also said that it had dealt with the issue of transportation of such workers and many of them have paid large sums – four or five times – to travel and many have died too. “Those who have not gone we have to look into this. Some prayers have financial implications also. We have to get the reply of the Centre too,” it added.

“We may issue some interim directions confined to Delhi-NCR considering your submissions so that some arrangements can be made in Delhi, Gurgaon, Haryana etc.,” the Bench told Bhushan.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Centre opposed the plea saying all state governments are alive to the situation.

“Now we are fighting with the pandemic, so let us fight with the pandemic and not with fringe elements. Unlike the last lockdown, it is not the lockdown as in first time. By and large, industries are working, constriction activities are allowed. So migrant workers are not incentivised to go back from places where industries are open. Last time everything was closed,” Mehta contended.

To this, the Bench said some interim directions are necessary to ensure immediate relief to migrants.

“How migrants will survive with no money or work? Some sustenance must be provided, for the time being. You have to consider the harsh realities. Immediate relief required must be granted immediately,” the top court told the Solicitor General.

The plea has urged the top court to direct the Central and the State governments to provide free cooked food through networks of community kitchens, hunger relief and feeding centres especially at places where distressed migrant workers are congregating such as industrial areas, homeless shelters, bus stations, train stations and other areas to ensure no one remains hungry.

It submitted that the problems and miseries faced by migrant workers during the lockdown in 2020 have persisted over the past year due to the continued economic distress and now have got aggravated on account of fresh restrictions, curfews and lockdowns being imposed in many States to control the spread of Covid-19.

The plea also said that even though States have been imposing decentralised COVID-19 curfews and lockdowns more cautiously this year, they have offered little welfare support to working classes and migrants whose livelihoods are at sea once again.

Leave a Reply