IN RE: PROBLEMS AND MISERIES OF MIGRANT LABOURERS
BANDHUA MUKTI MORCHA
UNION OF INDIA & ORS.
Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No. 6 OF 2020 with
Writ Petition (C) No.916 of 2020, Decided on 28th June, 2021
Judges: Ashok Bhushan, M.R. Shah JJ.
Since, the pandemic had adversely affected all the businesses including the small scale businesses, industries, markets and smallest of the person and due to this, one of the groups, which were severally affected by the pandemic, was the migrant labourers. As the Nationwide Lockdown was declared on 24.03.2020, there was huge exodus of the migrant labourers from their place of work to their native places.
When large number of migrant labourers started walking on highways on foot, cycles and other modes of transports without food and facing several untold miseries, the Supreme Court suo motu took cognizance of the problems and miseries of the migrant labourers by its order dated 26.05.2020, certain directions were issued on 28.05.2020 and thereafter issued further directions on 09.06.2020.
When the matter was again heard on 31.07.2020 the Supreme Court took note of certain acts i.e.
i) Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979;
ii) Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996; and
iii) Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008.
And directed all the States to file their response in respect to implementation of the aforesaid three enactments.
Since, the intensity of the pandemic varied from time to time, and after March, 2021, the second wave of pandemic hit the country and the number of cases started increasing throughout the country and on 11.06.2021the Court closed the hearing of the case.
The main issue before the Court was of the livelihood, food, shelter etc. of the persons in the unorganized sector these persons was an important aspect that was under consideration before the Court.
The Supreme Court took in into the note that as per the survey carried out by National Statistics Office (NSO) in 2017-2018 there are around 38 crores workers engaged in the unorganized sectors, thus, the number of is more than 1/4th population of the entire country.
Further the Court observed that these unorganized workers did not have any permanent source of employment and have engaged themselves in small time vocations and occupations at various places away from their native places and since, the Constitution enjoins that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are for promoting welfare of the people by securing social and economic justice to the weaker section so as to sub-serve the common good to minimize inequalities in income and endeavour to eliminate inequality in status.
Both, in the first and the second wave of the pandemic, migrant workers had been exposed to financial and other forms of hardships due to their limited access and claim to the welfare resources offered by the States/Union Territories. The migrant labourers are particularly vulnerable to the economic regression. When the migrant labourers form more than 1/4th population of the country, all Governments/authorities have to take special care regarding welfare of these migrant workers/labourers.
Since, in the proceedings, the counsel appearing for applicants/intervenors had raised concerns regarding non-supply of dry ration to large section of migrant workers, who are not covered under the National Food Security Act, the Supreme Court with regard to this observed that the Right to Life as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution gives right to every human being to live a life of dignity with access to at-least bare necessities of life. To provide food security to impoverished persons is the bounden duty of all States and Governments and with this object The Parliament had enacted the National Food Security Act, 2013 and all of those who have been identified as beneficiary under National Food Security Act, 2013 are provided dry rations as per the Centre and States’ Schemes. Thus the Court held that in the event, a migrant labour is covered under the National Food Security Act, 2013 and had been issued a ration card under the Act, he is entitled to access the dry ration wherever he is, at his work place also, in accordance with scheme of the Central Government namely “One Nation One Ration Card”.
Further the Court issued a slew of directions in this petition, since the Court had earlier issued various directions regarding the registration of unorganized workers but having found the progress not been satisfactory, the Court issue certain directions.
1. The Court directed 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 food grains from the States for disbursement of dry food grains to migrant labourers.
2. The Court directed 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 above, shall provide the additional food grains to the State. The State shall consider and bring an appropriate Scheme, which may be implemented on or before 31.07.2021. Such scheme may be continued and operated till the current pandemic (Covid-19) continues. “One Nation One Ration Card” is a scheme implemented by the Government of India providing for nation-wide portability of National Food Security Act Ration card.
3. The Court directed that the Central Government need to take steps to undertake exercise under Section 9 of the National Food Security Act, 2013 to re-determine the total number of persons to be covered under Rural and Urban areas of the State, which shall be beneficial to large number of persons.
4. Further direction was issued to the States/Union Territories to register all establishments and license all contractors under the Act and ensure that statutory duty imposed on the contractors to give particulars of the migrant workers is fully complied with. The competent authority while registering the establishments and granting license to the contractors may also impose conditions pertaining service condition, journey allowance and other facilities as set out in Chapter V of the Act. Central Government as well as States and Union Territories to complete the portal for registration under National Database for Unorganised Workers (NDUW) project as well as implement the same, which by all means may commence not later than 31.07.2021.
5. The Court directed that the States 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.
However, the Court having found that the direct bank transfer being matter of policy and being in domain of the State, no direction could be issued by this Court for any direct bank transfer as claimed by certain applicants/intervenors. We only observe that in event any person is entitled for direct bank transfer as per the existing scheme in any State, he can avail the said benefit by the mechanism as provided in the policy decision.