The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed all the states and Union Territories to implement the “one Nation, one ration card” scheme by July 31, Live Law reported. The scheme will allow them to get subsidised food from the public distribution system no matter where in the country they found themselves.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah also directed the Centre to set up a national portal for registration of unorganised sector workers by July 31.

“When the unorganised 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,” the order said. “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.”

The court also passed a slew of other directions based on a plea by activists Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj and Jagdeep Chhoka, according to Bar and Bench. The petition was filed in a pending suo motu case of 2020 when the Supreme Court took cognisance of the problems faced by migrant workers.

Despite states imposing localised lockdown and curfew to rein in the pandemic, the activists said, “migrants livelihoods are at sea once again” due to lack of welfare support.

The bench asked the Centre to bring in a scheme for distribution of dry ration to migrants and operate community kitchens so that no one went hungry during the pandemic.

The migrant crisis last year

The mass exodus of migrant workers from major cities had become a point of concern and deliberation during the nationwide lockdown in March 2020. With most modes of public transport shut down, thousands of migrant workers were left with the option of either ferrying rides on private vehicles with cramped spaces, or walk hundreds of kilometres on their way to hometowns.

The government started over 300 special trains on May 1 to help the workers get home amid severe criticism from all quarters.

In September, the Centre told the Parliament that it has no data on the number of deaths of migrant workers. However, the Railway Protection Force had said that nearly 80 migrant workers died of starvation or heat sickness while travelling on special trains between May 9 and May 27.

In June this year, the Railway Board said that as many as 8,733 people, most of whom were migrants, were killed on tracks in 2020 despite a halt on passenger train services amid the lockdown.

Last year’s survey of over 11,000 stranded migrant workers, done by the Stranded Workers Action Network, showed that half of them had stocks of ration that would only last less than a day. Out of these, 96% workers had not received rations from the government, and 70% had not received any cooked food. As many as 89% had not been paid by their employers at all during the lockdown, the report added.

Also read:

  1. Migrant workers have learnt their lesson from last year’s lockdown, but state governments have not
  2. Harsh Mander: A lesson in how to end the mass suffering unleashed by India’s first lockdown
  3. India failed its migrant workers yet again during the second wave of Covid-19