New Delhi: A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court by three prominent civil rights activists regarding Union and state governments’ failure to comply with Supreme Court instructions to ensure food and social security for migrant workers.
This petition was filed by activists Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj and Jagdeep Chhokar who were intervenors in the suo motu Written Petition (Civil) No. 6 of 2020 regarding the “Problems and Miseries of Migrant Workers” in which the Supreme Court had, on June 29, 2021, issued specific directions to Union and State governments.
“Suo motu knowledge” refers to an authority (in this case, the Supreme Court) taking up a case on its own initiative, without being invited to do so by a third party.
The Union was ordered to redetermine the beneficiaries; States to provide dry rations to migrant workers
The High Court had ordered the Union Government to undertake an exercise to “redetermine” the total number of people in rural and urban areas of the states covered by the Public Delivery System (PDS) of the National Health Act. Food Security (NFSA), 2013. This exercise had to be done under section 9 of the NFSA (which deals with coverage) since the current coverage is still based on the 2011 census.
In turn, the tribunal ordered all state governments to set up an appropriate system for the distribution of dry rations to migrant workers, without insisting that they provide proof of identity, and to operate community kitchens. in important places where large numbers of migrant workers would congregate in order to provide them with healthy, cooked food. States were also to maintain these two measures for as long as the COVID pandemic continued.
However, the petition, championed by lead attorney Prashant Bhushan, claimed that the Union government and most state governments have failed to implement and operationalize these guidelines.
“Non-Compliance Regarding Increase in COVID Cases”
“The non-compliance is even more concerning as the country is again faced with a growing number of COVID cases and almost all states have implemented lockdowns, restrictions and curfews, thus exacerbating the economic distress and the plight of migrant workers, most of whom are in the unorganized sector and, therefore, have no social or financial safety net to fall back on,” the petitioners said.
Lamenting the lack of attention given to the difficulties faced by these migrant workers, the petitioners added that “they are again faced with the loss of their livelihoods, uncertainty and hunger”.
The petition said it relied on information accessible under the RTI Act and the governments’ responses to legal opinions sent regarding the implementation of the Supreme Court’s instructions to highlight the violation of the judgment.
“The Union has not yet started the exercise to increase the coverage of the PDS”
On the issue of increasing coverage under the PDS, the petitioners pointed out that the Union Government has not, to date, launched any exercise to redefine the coverage. In a response to an RTI inquiry inquiring about action taken in the wake of the SC ruling, the petitioners said the Union Government has stated that “any review of coverage by State/UT will be possible after the publication of the data of the next census. The judgment rendered by the Honorable Supreme Court is under review at this time (sic). “
With the 2021 census delayed due to COVID and the data unlikely to be released for the next two to three years, petitioners said the government’s failure to launch the redetermination exercise was in clear breach of guidelines of the Supreme Court, which were issued in the context of the pandemic and therefore required urgent and time-limited action.
Only five states responded to legal opinions on compliance with SC guidelines on rationing regime
The petitioners said that following the June 29 judgment, legal notices were sent to all states to ensure timely compliance with SC instructions, including instructions to state governments to put in place a program providing dry rations to migrant workers. who do not have ration cards. However, only five states responded to the disclaimers of which only Odisha, Delhi and Assam provided details of the schemes formulated by them.
In addition, an RTI request was filed seeking details from the Union government of which states had requested additional food grains to be given to migrant workers and whether these had been provided. The response revealed that as of September 2021, only two state governments – Telangana and Meghalaya – are seeking additional food grains to provide rations to migrant workers and even this is not being provided by the government of India. Union.
The petition further noted that the Union government was well aware of the plight and had therefore extended the operation of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana (PMGKAY) until March 2022, through which 80 million people with ration would be entitled to five kg of additional rations, in addition to the five kg to which each person is entitled. However, no provision has been made for poor and vulnerable families who do not have a ration card.
The petition, which calls for the immediate implementation of the June 29 guidelines, was presented by Bhushan before a bench of the Chief Justice of India on Thursday, asking for the case to be listed. CJI Ramana has indicated that he will look into the matter, the petitioners said.