Migrant workers’ registration process very slow; expedite for pandemic benefit schemes, says Supreme Court

However, the apex court refused to direct any cash transfer to any person not covered by any state or the Union Territory, saying it is a policy decision and no direction for such transfer can be issued by the court.

Asking the Centre to file an affidavit detailing what it has done to provide dry rations to migrant workers under the Atma Nirbhar Scheme, the Supreme Court on Monday directed that migrant workers wherever stranded throughout the country should be provided the dry ration under the scheme or any other scheme found suitable by the states or the Centre.

The court also instructed the authorities not to insist on any identity card and said any self declaration will make the migrants eligible for food grains.

Expressing concern over the ‘woefully slow’ process of registering workers from the unorganised sector, the top court on Monday directed registration of unorganised workers to be completed as early as possible. A Common National Database for all organised workers situated in different states in the country should be set up in collaboration with the states, it told Ministry of Labour and Employment.

However, the apex court refused to direct any cash transfer to any person not covered by any state or the Union Territory, saying it is a policy decision and no direction for such transfer can be issued by the court.

A bench comprising justices Ashok Bhushan and M R Shah asked the Centre why there is no national data on workers of unorganised sector. It asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to expedite the process of registration of such workers by the Ministry of Labour as directed in a separate matter in 2018.

The court emphasised that data and the portal are essential to ensure benefits reach the needy during the lockdown. It also asked the States/Union Territories to file affidavits giving details of the schemes regarding cash transfer after it noted that few states had made schemes for direct cash transfer to construction workers and different amounts from Rs 1,000 to Rs 6,000 had been transferred but no such direct transfer scheme was in place with regard to other unorganised workers.

The court also asked the governments of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to provide adequate transportation for the workers who wished to return to their homes.

“Whether it was the national lockdown in 2020 or mini lockdowns in 2021, psychologically the attitude of migrant workers remains the same — they would want to go home,” Justice Shah told Mehta.

Taking up a Suo Motu matter, the court pointed out governments could extend benefits to migrant workers, those who lost employment amid the pandemic, only if they were registered.

“It is a difficult task, but has to be achieved,” the bench said, while adding that the Centre and states must expedite registration of migrant workers along with those working in the unorganised sectors. “On paper, we see government has spent thousands of crores, but the concern is that whether it is reaching the needy persons,” the bench said.

“We are further of the view that there shall be suitable mechanism to monitor and supervise whether the benefits of the welfare schemes reach the beneficiaries which may be from grassroot levels to higher authorities with names and places of beneficiaries so that the purposes for such schemes are floated is achieved,” the top court said.

Regarding Community Kitchen, the court said that it is the responsibility of the States/Union Territories to provide Community Kitchen to the stranded migrant workers, who have lost their employment and are in need of two meals a day. “We direct all the States/Union Territories to make operational the community kitchen to the stranded migrant workers wherever they may situate in the country. There shall be wide publicity with respect to the various schemes including the places of community kitchens so that such needy persons may in fact take benefits,” it added.

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