How will food reach migrant labourers without ration cards, asks Supreme Court

Migrant labourers take rest in a bus stop in Vijayawada. File   | Photo Credit: K.V.S. Giri

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre how it intended to take food to crores of migrant labourers who have no ration cards.

“How will food reach migrant labourers without ration cards?” a Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R. Shah addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, for the Centre.

The court said the schemes rolled out so far seemed to cover only ration card holders.

Ms. Bhati explained that the Centre had kept its best foot forward with the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, which covers 80 crore poor identified as beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act. The scheme provides 5 kg of free food grains to every person for May and June. It intends to help the poor tide over the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic. Eight lakh metric tonnes of food grains have already been given, she added.

“No doubt you [the Centre] are providing food… No doubt some migrant labourers have ration cards… But we are only bothered about those who do not have them. We want to know about your mechanism to identify and provide food for people who do not have ration cards…” Justice Bhushan addressed the government side.

Ms. Bhati said the Centre was only in charge of making available or procuring food grains. The States had to distribute the food within their territories. The law officer said the Centre was ready to give the States whatever they wanted.

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who appeared for some activists along with advocate Prashant Bhushan, said the “Centre was leaving them [the poor without ration cards] to the mercy of the States.”

“Those without ration cards cannot be allowed to die… The economic situation is far more dire now,” Mr. Dave said.

Mr. Mehta strongly objected to Mr. Dave’s submissions, saying he was “dramatising” the issue.

In the previous hearing, Mr. Bhushan had submitted that the Centre had last year recorded 8 crore migrant workers without ration cards. The States had identified 2.8 crore of them.

At this point, the court pulled up the government for delaying the completion of a national database to identify and register migrant workers. The creation of the database portal has remained a non-starter for months now.

The government said the delay had something to do with the “software”. The database would have helped the Centre work in tandem with State governments to identify migrant labourers and provide them timely welfare during the pandemic.

The government side said the database would be ready in the next three or four months.

“Why do you need three or four months? You are only preparing a database portal,” Justice Bhushan asked.

Ms. Bhati explained that the portal would be an “end-to-end” one, which would not only function as a database but also help in tracking and monitoring benefits meant for migrant labourers.

“It will be a self-sustaining, self-managing portal,” Mr. Mehta assured.

Senior advocate Maninder Singh, for Gujarat, said the State had inaugurated its new database portal for migrant workers on June 8. The court asked the Centre to study the “Gujarat model” and see if it could be incorporated nationally.

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 7:03:55 AM |

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