The Bombay High Court Wednesday directed the State and District Legal Services Authorities to verify the claims made by the state government that it had started over 4,000 centres and were providing cooked food to more than seven lakh migrant workers and daily wagers during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Justice A A Sayed was hearing public interest litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Sarva Hara Jan Andolan, seeking various reliefs for migrant workers and underprivileged persons across Maharashtra.
The PIL, filed through advocate Kranti LC, had sought a stay on two state government resolutions (GRs) of March 29 and 30 that stipulated that migrant workers who had no means to sustain themselves in view of lockdown orders would have to shell out a nominal amount of Rs 2 and 5 for foodgrains. The PIL stated the GRs were against the Central government’s scheme that announced free ration for such persons for three months and sought to set aside these GRs.
The PIL also sought that the state constitutes task forces in every district, comprising officials of local bodies, who will collate, execute and supervise the implementation of various GRs and orders in coordination with NGOs, trade unions and civil society members. It also sought directions to the state government to provide temporary accommodation and medical facilities for migrants displaced due to lockdown and provide minimum wages of three months to migrants registered with employee guarantee schemes.
On Wednesday, in a hearing conducted through video-conferencing, the state government told the high court that while it would implement the central government scheme, there was an apprehension that same would lead to hoarding and black marketing of food grains provided free of cost.
The state government also said Maharashtra would implement Centre’s scheme after examining that the beneficiaries were indeed unable to sustain themselves and could not access any other means. It also informed the court that the state has started providing cooked meals to migrant workers, and had set up over 4,000 distribution centres across Maharashtra. The meals are being provided free of cost three times a day and more than seven lakh persons are benefiting from it, the court was informed.
After hearing the submissions, the bench directed the district legal services authorities, which have a presence across 36 districts and talukas, to verify the state’s claims and produce a report. Justice Sayed also directed the state’s food and civil supplies department to file an affidavit stating the amount of foodgrain disbursed and the number of beneficiaries. He posted the matter for hearing on April 15.
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