Supreme Court’s order is significant for migrant laborers of the country who suffered the most during Covid-19 pandemic
Indian children collect rice and lentils from a school in the southern city of Chennai on July 24 as part of a government free meal program for schoolchildren during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: AFP/ UCAN files)
India’s top court has come to the rescue of over 80 million migrant laborers who have been deprived of government’s various welfare schemes for want of mandatory identity proof (ration card) to avail the welfare benefits including free food.
The Supreme Court in a significant judgment on April 20 has ordered the provinces and the Federal government ruled territories to issue ration cards to migrant laborers in their jurisdiction within three months.
“Without the ration card a migrant/unorganized laborer or his family members may be deprived of the benefit of the schemes and maybe the benefit under the National Food Security Act,” said a division bench of the top court comprising Justice MR Shah and Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah.
“It is definitely a very important judgment in favor of the migrant laborers in the county,” asserts Father Franklin Menezes who is working among migrant workers in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal state in eastern India.
Father Menezes, a member of the Archdiocese of Calcutta (now Kolkata) told UCA News on April 21, “Many migrant workers with whom I work do not have ration cards and without which they and their families are unable to even get the free ration provided by the government through its public distribution system.”
In India, according to eShram, an official website under the Federal Ministry of Labor and Employment, 286 million migrants have been registered to gain governments various welfare benefits among them only 206.3 million have been issued ration cards.
“This figure clearly indicates that close to 80 million migrant laborers are still not eligible to avail the welfare benefits including free food grains as they do not have valid ration cards,” Father Menezes wondered.
“No doubt, the SC order is of extreme importance and if implemented in letter and spirit it will help those poor laborers and their families not only to avail the welfare benefits but transform their lives,” the priest asserted.
The court order came in response to a petition filed jointly by activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Harsh Mander, and Jagdeep Chhokkar alleging that millions of migrant workers and unorganized sector laborers were being deprived of basic food materials for want of ration cards.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners, informed the court that at least 10 crore people have been deprived of their benefits under the National Food Security Act.
The court, however, restricted its order to the official figure of those registered with the eShram portal.
Out of 286 million registrants on eShram 206.3million "are registered on ration card data. Meaning thereby, the rest registrants on eShram are still without ration cards,” said the court and added, "being a welfare state, it is the duty of the concerned state/Federal government governed territory to see that the remaining registrants on eShram, who are still not registered on ration card data and who are not issued the ration cards, they are issued ration cards and the exercise for issuance of ration cards are required to be expedited.”
The court has ordered them to complete the process within a time-bound three months period and ordered the Federal government to file a status report of compliance with its order.
“It is very vital for a migrant laborer to have a ration card as proof of his identity wherever he/she goes,” said Father Sahaya Philomin Raj, a Jesuit priest working among migrant workers in Tamil Nadu state in southern India.
The priest, a practicing lawyer with the Madurai bench of the high court told the UCA News on April 21, “The SC no doubt has passed the order for those registered with the eShram portal but there are many others who are still not even aware of the registration process.”
“Unless the provincial and federal territory governments make earnest efforts to bring all those into the eShram portal and issue ration cards, the top court order will remain inconclusive,” the priest explained.
The priest also appealed to the SC to broaden the base of its order when it takes up the case again for consideration. The court has posted its next hearing on Oct. 3 this year.
Federal government in December last had ordered to provide a free ration to 813 million poor people under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) for one year indicating that poverty is rampant in the country.
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