SC terms as 'unpardonable' Centre's apathy in creating national data for unorganised workers

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New Delhi, Jun 29 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Tuesday termed as “unpardonable” the Centre's “apathy and lackadaisical attitude” towards creating National Database for Unorganised Workers (NDUW) and ordered its commencement by July 31 so that all migrant workers are registered this year and welfare measures extended to them during COVID distress.

The top court issued a slew of directions to authorities on a plea of three activists seeking welfare measures for migrant workers and ordered states and Union Territories (UTs) to frame schemes for providing free dry ration to them till the pandemic lasts, while the Centre will have to allocate additional foodgrains.

A bench comprising justices Ashok Bhushan and M R Shah also ordered that “the states, who have not yet implemented 'One Nation One Ration Card' scheme are directed to implement the same by not later than July 31”.

The Centre pointed out that Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Assam and Delhi have not implemented the ONORC scheme which helps in availing free ration at place of work.

The top court referred to its order of August 21, 2018 directing the Ministry of Labour to make available a module to states and UTs for the registration of unorganised workers and said the stand taken by the Centre “does not commend us”.

“When the unorganized workers are waiting for registration and are waiting to reap the benefit of various welfare schemes of the States and Centre, the apathy and lackadaisical attitude by the Ministry of Labour and Employment is unpardonable. There was urgency in the portal to be finalized and implemented looking to the pandemic and dire need of unorganized workers to receive the benefit.

“The attitude of Ministry of Labour and Employment in not completing the module even though directed as early as on 21.08.2018 shows that Ministry is not alive to the concern of the migrant workers and the non-action of the Ministry is strongly disapproved,” it said.

The bench also directed the labour secretary to ensure that NDUW portal is finalised and implementation of the portal commences on or before July 31 and sought a compliance report within a month thereafter.

The top court directed the department of Food and Public Distribution to “allocate and distribute foodgrains as per demand of additional food-grains from the States for disbursement of dry food grains to migrant labourers.” “We direct the States to bring in place an appropriate scheme for distribution of dry ration to migrant labourers for which it shall be open for states to ask for allocation of additional food grains from the Central Government, which, as directed...shall provide the additional food grains to the State,” it ordered, adding that it has to be brought by July 31 and may be continued till the current pandemic exists.

Justice Bhushan, writing the 80-page judgement for the bench, also directed states and UTs to run community kitchens at prominent places for feeding those who do not have sufficient means.

The top court referred to the worldwide awareness over the right to food of human beings and said that the fundamental right to life under Article 21 may include this right as well.

“There has been worldwide awareness regarding right to food to human being. Our country is no exception. Lately, all Governments have been taking steps and taking measures to ensure that no human being should be affected by hunger and no one dies out of hunger. The basic concept of food security globally is to ensure that all people, at all times, should get access to the basic food for their active and healthy life.

“The Constitution of India does not have any explicit provision regarding right to food. The fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution may be interpreted to include right to live with human dignity, which may include the right to food and other basic necessities,” it said.

The verdict, which was critical of the delay in creating NDUW, directed the Centre to develop the Portal in consultation with National Informatics Centre (NIC).

“We also impress upon and direct that the process of registration of the unorganized labourers/migrant workers is completed at the earliest, but not later than 31.12.2021,” it said.

The verdict directed states, UTs and the Licence Holders or contractors to cooperate with the Centre to complete the process of registration of migrant workers and unorganized labourers for welfare schemes.

“The Central Government may undertake exercise under Section 9 of the National Food Security Act, 2013 to re-determine the total number of persons to be covered under the Rural and Urban areas of the State,” it directed.

It also directed states and UTs to register all establishments and license all contractors under the law and ensure that statutory duty imposed on the contractors to give particulars of migrant workers is fully complied with.

Three activists, Anjali Bharadwaj, Harsh Mander and Jagdeep Chhokar, had filed the plea seeking directions to the Centre and states to ensure food security, cash transfers and other welfare measures for migrant workers who faced distress again due to curfews and lockdowns in various parts of country during the second wave of COVID-19.

The fresh plea was filed in a pending suo motu case of 2020 in which the top court in May last year had taken cognizance of problems and miseries of migrant labourers and had passed a slew of directions. PTI SJK ABA MNL SA

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