The Supreme Court Monday said the Centre and state governments cannot deny ration cards to migrant workers solely on the ground that population ratio under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) has not been properly maintained.
Observing that every citizen should benefit from welfare schemes, a bench comprising justices MR Shah and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said in a welfare state it is the duty of the government to reach out to people.
“We are not saying that the government has failed to perform its duty or there is any negligence. Still, assuming that some persons are left out, the central and state governments should see that they get ration cards.
“No central or state governments can deny ration cards solely on the ground that the population ratio under National Food Security Act (NFSA) is not properly maintained,” the bench said.
The top court said it is for the government to reach out to the needy and sometimes as a welfare government,”kuyen ko pyase ke paas jaana padta hai (well must go to the thirsty).”
At the outset, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre, submitted 28.86 crore workers have registered on ‘e-Shram’ portal meant for unorganised sector workers like construction workers, migrant labourers, street vendors and domestic helps.
On the issue of data sharing, Bhati said standard operating procedures have been brought in to share data in a secure manner because of privacy concerns.
“Data sharing is happening between 24 states and their labour departments. Preliminary data mapping we’ve carried out. About 20 crores are beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act who are registered on the portal. NFSA is a joint effort by Centre and the states,” she said.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for three activists- Anjali Bharadwaj, Harsh Mander, and Jagdeep Chhokar- raised the issue of ration cards and said said the majority of the workers are deprived of rations despite being registered on the portal as they don’t have ration cards.
Bhushan said NFSA covers up to 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population under Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY).
However, this number is based on the census of 2011, he added.
The apex court reserved its order in the matter after hearing the parties.
The top court had earlier said migrant workers play a very vital role in building the nation and their rights cannot be ignored.
It had also asked the Centre to devise a mechanism so that they receive food grains without ration cards.
The top court had issued a slew of directions to authorities on a plea of the three activists seeking welfare measures for migrant workers and ordered states and Union Territories (UTs) to frame schemes for providing free dry rations to them till the Covid pandemic lasted, while the Centre will have to allocate additional foodgrains.
It also directed states and UTs to register all establishments and license all contractors under the law and ensure that the statutory duty imposed on the contractors to give particulars of migrant workers is fully complied with.