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Central Govt To Allocate &Distribute Food Grains As Per Demand Of States To Migrant Labourers: SC

Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India & Ors.

SUO MOTU WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.6 OF 2020 With Writ Petition (C) No.916 of 2020

Decided on June 29, 2021.

A two-judge bench comprising of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice M.R. Shah decided the present case. The Supreme Court disposed both the writ petition by directing the Central government and State government to complete the process of registration of migrant workers and unorganized labourers and to distribute food grains as per demand of additional food-grains from the States for disbursement of dry foodgrains to migrant labourers. The apex court further instructed the States who have not implemented “One Nation One Ration Card” to do it before 31.07.2021. The court also instructed the state and union territories government to run a community kitchen and feed those labourers who do not have sufficient means to procure two meals a day.

On 24.03.2020, a nationwide lockdown was implemented which led to the huge departure of migrant workers from their place of work to their native place on foot and cycle without proper food while facing several miseries. Due to which the court took cognizance of the problems and miseries of the migrant labourers by its order dated 26.05.2020 and registered the Suo Motu writ petition. The State/Union Territories and the Central Government filed affidavits and also filed intervention application in this writ petition bringing into notice of this Court several facts, figures and suggested different measures for ameliorating the conditions of the migrant labourers. The main issue on hand for the government was the transportation of the migrant workers.

The Court issued many directions on the order dated 09.06.2020 instructing the central and state/union territories to arrange transport for the migrant workers to help them return to their native place along with introducing various schemes that will benefit the migrant workers. The court further instructed the concerned States/UTs to consider withdrawal of prosecution/complaints under Section 51 of Disaster Management Act and other related offences lodged against the migrant labourers who alleged to have violated measures of Lockdown by moving on roads during the period of Lockdown enforced under Disaster Management Act, 2005.

The court heard the matter again on 31.07.2020 and referred to the enactments, Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service)Act, 1979; Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996; and Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 and instructed the government for implementation of the aforesaid three enactments. The government complied with the order and bought some solace in the first wave of pandemic and willing migrant labourers reached their native places.

The Country was hit again by the second wave and saw a significant rise in the number of covid-19 cases after March, 2021 and many state/union territories issues state wise lockdown, night curfews. An I.A. No.58769 of 2021 was filed in the writ petition seeking directions from the Court specifically praying for direction to distribute dry ration to migrant workers, facilitating their transport either by road or by train to their native places and with request to direct for running of community kitchen for migrant labourers so that they and their family members could get two meals a day.

The learned Solicitor General for India, senior counsel for applicants and of different states/union territories put forth their arguments raising concerns regarding non-supply of dry ration to a large section of migrant workers, who are not covered under the National Food Security Act, 2013 and who do not possess ration cards.

The Court put forth the main concerns in the proceeding:

The main subjects with which we are concerned in this proceeding are:- (i) Entitlement of dry ration by migrant workers who are not covered by the National Food Security Act, 2013 and who does not possess a ration card; (ii) The implementation of “One Nation One Ration Card” by States and Union Territories; (iii) Coverage of Rural and Urban population under National Food Security Act, 2013; (iv) The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service)Act, 1979, its working and implementation; (v) The registration of unorganized workers’ (a) under the legislations namely 1996 Act and 2008 Act and the steps taken by different State Governments in the above regard; (b) The project – National Database for the Unorganised Workers (NDUW) of Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India; and (c) The mechanism to ensure access by migrant labourers to different welfare schemes of the Central Government and the State Governments. (vi) Community Kitchen for Migrant Labourers by States/Union Territories; and (vii) Direct Bank Transfer to unorganized workers.” (Para 22)

The Court regarding the first concern stated that,

The Central Government having undertaken to distribute additional quantity of foodgrains as demanded by the States/Union Territories for distribution to migrant labourers under some Scheme framed by the States, we direct the Central Government, Department of Food and Public Distribution (Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution) to allocate and distribute food grains as per demand of additional foodgrains from the States for disbursement of dry foodgrains to migrant labourers. (Para 33)

Regarding the second issue, the Court stated:

We, thus, are of the view that those States who have not yet implemented One Nation One Ration Card scheme should implement the same. We direct the States who have not implemented the One Nation One Ration Card scheme to implement the scheme by not later than 31.07.2021. (Para 38)

The Court had the following view in regarding the unregistered workers:

We had in our various orders passed in this proceedings had asked the States/Union Territories to file affidavits regarding the status of registration of workers undertaken under the various legislations of States and Union Territories and they have filed their detailed affidavits referring to status of registration of workers. From the facts as brought on record on behalf of States/Union Territories, steps taken by respective States and Union Territories are decipherable. It is useful to briefly notice the status of registration as reflected in the affidavits of different States. (Para 51)

The Court answered the issue of community kitchen by observing:

It is true that after relaxation of lockdown and restrictions imposed, all the industries have started functioning, providing of employment to large number of people including migrant workers but still there are migrant labourers, who have not got any employment. The States have been running community kitchens during the pandemic. We are of the view that State should run the community kitchens at prominent places where large number of migrant labourers are there, which community kitchens should be continued at-least till the pandemic continues. The States should advertise places where facility of community kitchen/subsidized meals is provided so that no migrant labour, who is unable to arrange for his two meals can remain hungry. (Para 78)

View/Download Judgement : Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India & Ors.

Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India & Ors.
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Utkarsh Kumar Jayaswal



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