Only 2 States sought extra grains for migrant worker schemes ordered by SC: RTI response

Centre has not allocated any extra grains yet

Published - September 27, 2021 10:48 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The apex court gave States a July 31 deadline to set up a scheme to distribute dry rations and run community kitchens for such workers as long as the pandemic continues File.

The apex court gave States a July 31 deadline to set up a scheme to distribute dry rations and run community kitchens for such workers as long as the pandemic continues File.

Telangana and Meghalaya are the only State governments which have sought additional foodgrains from the Centre in pursuance of the Supreme Court’s June order to provide dry rations to migrants without ration cards, according to the Food Ministry’s response to a Right to Information (RTI) petition filed by an intervenor in the case. The Centre has not yet allocated any grains for this purpose and refused to release its correspondence with States on the issue, claiming exemption under the RTI Act on the grounds of a “fiduciary relationship”.

In its June 29 judgement in a suo motu case on migrant and unorganised sector workers facing hardships due to COVID-19, the apex court gave States a July 31 deadline to set up a scheme to distribute dry rations and run community kitchens for such workers as long as the pandemic continues, and directed the Centre to provide the needed grains.

On September 17, well past the SC’s deadline, the Food Ministry said only the State governments of Meghalaya and Telangana had sought additional foodgrains for this purpose. It was responding to an RTI request filed by Right to Food activist Anjali Bhardwaj, one of the intervenors in the SC case. Asked about the quantity of extra grains the Centre had given the States, the Food and Public Distribution Department said, “So far no additional allocation of foodgrains has been made...”

“There is complete non compliance and contempt of the SC direction,” said Ms. Bhardwaj. “As it is, the Centre has stopped its own Atmanirbhar scheme to provide dry rations for migrants and those without ration cards. Under the SC judgement, the Centre had an obligation to work with the States to identify migrant workers. But now we see that even when a few States have asked for grains, nothing has yet been given.”

The intervenors also sent legal notices to State governments regarding implementation of the SC order. On August 31, the Odisha government responded with details of its new scheme for migrants without ration cards, noting that the additional rice requirement would be met from the State pool for the first month, and then replenished after receipt of grains from the Centre. There is no mention of the Odisha scheme in the Centre’s RTI response.

Ms. Bhardwaj had also asked for a copy of the correspondence between the Centre and the States regarding such additional foodgrains. The Ministry denied the information saying “Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act 2005 exempts information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship from disclosure unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.”

“Who are the parties in this so-called ‘fiduciary relationship’? The Centre and the States which are both supposed to be working in the public interest anyway, and in pursuance of an SC order. Such information should be in the public domain anyway,” pointed out Ms. Bhardwaj.

The intervenors, who also include activists Harsh Mander and Jagdeep Chhokar, also intend to return to the court regarding its direction to redetermine the National Food Security Act coverage in view of population growth. The current coverage is on the basis of the outdated 2011 census. In an August 24 response to a different RTI request on this issue, the Food Ministry had said “any revision in the State/UT-wise coverage shall be possible after the data of next Census is published”, adding that the judgement was still being examined.

Ms. Bhardwaj pointed out that this would be too late to help migrants and other marginalised communities which had been left vulnerable by the pandemic, as intended in the SC order. “The census has been delayed because of COVID. To wait until the pandemic is over, and the next census data comes out would be violative of the spirit of the court’s order,” she said.

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