Supreme Court reserves order in migrant labourers’ case, asks Bengal to implement one nation one ration card system now

The Supreme Court bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R. Shah on Friday reserved its formal issue of order on the migrant labourers’ case, but at the same time directed West Bengal government to immediately implement one nation one ration card scheme. The bench did not accept the state counsel’s excuse that this has an Aadhaar seeding issue attached to it.

The bench also pulled up the Central government for not being able to create a software for the collection of data related to information of migrant workers and said: “How much time will the Central government take to develop the software for the compilation of data of migrant workers? The amount to the tune of Rs 470 crore had been release four months back, and still you are not able to develop a database?”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta replied that the software, which the Centre is developing, will not be just a data entry software. The Central government is ensuring that the benefit flowing from the top should reach bottom i.e. the migrant workers and the software will be self-serving and it might take some time to develop that software. But it will not take more than 3-4 months.

Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, who was appearing for an applicant, submitted that Central government is providing food to migrant workers who have ration cards, but it also has the duty to provide food to migrant workers who do not hold a ration card. He said: “The migrant workers who do not have ration cards should not be left to die.”

The bench observed that it is necessary to have a Common National Database for all unorganised workers situated in different States in the entire country and that the process initiated by Labour Ministry should be completed with collaboration and coordination of States.

During the lockdown, migrant workers were left with no other option but walk to their respective villages. The crisis intensified to such an extent that it prompted 20 Senior Advocates, including P. Chidambaram, Anand Grover, Indira Jaising and Mihir Desai, among others to write a letter to the Supreme Court on May 25, 2020. This late-night letter asserted that the Court’s non-interference violated the fundamental rights of migrant labourers. They stressed that the plight of migrant labourers is not a mere ‘policy issue’, but a human rights crisis. The Advocates urged the Court to intervene and grant free transportation, food and shelter.

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Thereafter, on May 26, 2020 the Supreme Court in Re: Problems And Miseries Of Migrant Labourers took suo motu cognizance of the ‘problems and miseries of migrant labourers who had been stranded in different parts of the country.’ The three-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.R. Shah had issued notice to the Central and State Governments.
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