Updated: June 12, 2021 9:28:12 am
The Supreme Court on Friday questioned the delay in getting the national database of unorganised workers up and running as it reserved its judgement in a suo motu matter regarding assistance to be provided to migrant workers in the wake of the second wave of Covid-19.
The court also asked the West Bengal government to immediately implement the one nation one ration card scheme, which allows migrant labourers to get ration benefits from any part of the country irrespective of the place where their ration card is registered.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M R Shah noted that money for the national database had already been released but even the module has not been created. “How long will you take?” the bench sought to know.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench that there were some problems with the software. Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati said the database is not only a software but is also a mechanism where beneficiaries are recognised and it is ensured that the benefits go to them directly.
The government said the National Informatics Centre (NIC) had taken over the project and it will be done in three to four months.
However, the bench sought to know why so much time was needed as only a module was required, and no consultation with states is needed at this stage.
Agreeing with the bench, the SG said, “Your concern is right. The portal cannot take so much time to be made. We will speak to NIC.”
The bench responded that it will issue a direction and that the matter cannot be left entirely to the bureaucracy.
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves termed it an “excuse” and said the states had set up their own portals but had not been able to link into the national portal as the same was not ready yet. He also referred to an earlier assurance from the Union Secretary that the database was ready.
The SC also sought to know how ration will be provided to those who did not have a ration card. SG Mehta said the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojna has been extended to November and that the numbers have also been identified.
Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for some activists, said many of these workers did not have ration cards, adding that the scheme will only benefit card holders.
ASG Bhati contested this and explained how the scheme is being extended to even those without cards. She said that 8 lakh metric tonnes of additional food grains are being given and migrants and stranded migrants are both covered under it, adding that the scheme covers a total of 80 crore people.
The court then asked under what scheme it will be distributed to those who don’t have ration cards. That latitude has been left to states, replied the ASG.
The bench pointed out that some states had said that they don’t have any schemes for migrants yet. Every state should have a scheme for that, SG Mehta said.
Dave said the Centre is trying to shift the onus to the states but the court observed that it was only the distribution part, whereas the procurement is by the Centre. The court added that it is only concerned about how those who do not have a card would avail the rations.
To a query from the court as to what can be done to ensure distribution, the SG said the Union secretary concerned can have a video conference with every state and can come back within one week. “What can be done, what cannot be done, these can be thrashed out”.
Meanwhile the counsel for Maharashtra and Punjab said they had implemented the one nation one ration card scheme. The counsel for West Bengal however said the state had not implemented it yet due to Aadhaar seeding problems.
But the bench did not mince words and told the West Bengal counsel, “You have to implement it when others have. You can’t cite one or the other problem. This is for the migrant workers.”
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