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SC sets July 31 date for one ration card, calls migrant portal delay unpardonable

The court also pulled up the Centre for the delay in setting up a national web portal to register migrant and unorganised workers, calling this“lackadaisical” and “unpardonable”.

Written by Apurva Vishwanath | New Delhi |
Updated: June 30, 2021 1:13:32 am
Migrant labourers at Anand Vihar bus terminal in New Delhi. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

THE Supreme Court on Tuesday set a deadline of July 31 for states to implement the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ system and for the Centre to create a national database of unorganised workers.

The court also pulled up the Centre for the delay in setting up a national web portal to register migrant and unorganised workers, calling this“lackadaisical” and “unpardonable”.

“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. There was urgency in the portal to be finalised and implemented looking (at) the pandemic and dire need of unorganised workers to receive the benefit,” a Supreme Court bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M R Shah said while issuing a string of directions to the Centre and states.

The court’s verdict came in a suo motu case it had taken up on May 26 last year concerning the welfare of migrant workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Calling One Nation One Ration Card “an important citizen-centric reform”, the Supreme Court set a deadline of July 31 for all states to implement the scheme and said “its implementation ensures availability of ration to beneficiaries under National Food Security Act (NFSA) and other welfare schemes, especially to the migrant workers and their families at any Fair Price Shop across the Country”.


Slow to take off

Though the One Nation One Ration scheme is in operation in 32 states and UTs, it has been slow to take off. In June, only 1.65 lakh beneficiaries under the NFSA availed of it for inter-state portability.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had earlier told the court that only four states — Assam, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and West Bengal — were yet to implement the One Nation, One Ration Card scheme. While the Delhi government told the court it had implemented the scheme, Mehta argued that it was implemented only in Seemapuri circle and “only a handful of transactions with 42 e-POS machines have been done.”

Under the scheme, an estimated 69 crore beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act can buy subsidised foodgrains from any of the fair price shops across the country, not necessarily where the ration card is registered.

On the proposed National Database for Unorganised Workers (NDUW), the court said, “It is only after registration of the workers that the States and the Centre shall be able to extend the benefits of the welfare schemes to them. Prior to that, unless the registration is complete, tall claims by all the States and Union that they have implemented various welfare schemes for the migrant workers and unorganised workers remain only on paper.”

In an affidavit filed on June 6, the Central government told the court that the “major technical as well as other operational issues have been resolved and development of the portal had commenced”. The government had cited the second Covid-19 wave as the reason for the delay in setting up the portal.

In its 80-page ruling, the bench also directed state governments to introduce a scheme to supply dry rations and set up community kitchens to ensure that migrant workers without ration cards do not go hungry during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Most of the States have been harping on providing food grains free of cost for two months, i.e., May and June 2020. The State of West Bengal has stated that there is no scheme for providing dry ration to migrant workers,” the court noted.

“Especially during this pandemic, the States/Union Territories have to make extra efforts to reach migrant labourers so that no migrant labourer is denied two meals a day,” the SC said.

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