New Delhi: A plea has been moved in the Supreme Court seeking direction to the Centre to extend its scheme of providing dry rations under the Atmanirbhar Bharat scheme for 8 crore migrant labourers or needy persons not covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
The plea has been moved by Harsh Mander, Anjali Bharadwaj and Jagdeep Chhokar seeking a direction to the Centre to extend this scheme for 12 months to ensure inclusion of migrant labourers under NFSA by issuance of ration cards.
The petitioners also contended that the apex court should also issue direction to the Centre and state governments to set up a proper mechanism in association with the chief secretary of each state to ensure time-bound implementation of the scheme for distribution of food grains to the migrant workers in the backdrop of Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the Atmanirbhar Bharat scheme, which was announced in May, the Centre took cognisance that most migrant workers are left out of the purview of the Public Distribution System (PDS) under the National Food Security Act. The Centre declared that for 8 crore migrant workers, the government will provide 5 kg of food grains per person and 1 kg of pulses per family, free of cost, for a period of 2 months in May and June.
"This scheme was to cover migrant labourers, stranded persons, who are not covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) or State scheme PDS cards", said the plea. The petitioners argued that the scheme for food security of migrant workers has not been extended beyond the 2 months, despite a declaration of National Disaster under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 still being in force and despite no measure of normalcy having returned in the country and in the lives of migrant workers.
"This is a violation of the right to food and right to life of crores of people and will cause further distress among migrant workers. As per the ministry's own statistics, this scheme for food distribution had been underutilised. Out of eight lakh tonnes allotted to the states, only 6.39 lakh tonnes had been picked up. Out of this only 2,23,433 tonnes of food grains was given to 2.24 crore beneficiaries in May and 2.25 crore beneficiaries in June", contended the plea.
The petitioners argued that these figures establish that despite the scheme, the food grains and pulses reached only a fraction of those without ration cards due to problems with identification of beneficiaries and then in distribution by the states.
Citing the Centre's nod to the extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana (PMGKAY) till November 2020, the plea said "This shows that the central government is well aware of the fact that people, especially those in the informal sector, daily wagers, labourers and marginalised require continued assistance to survive and have two square meals a day. In such a scenario not extending scheme for providing rations to migrant workers who have been hit the hardest by the crisis and whose desperate plight led the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance of the matter, is in violation of the fundamental right to food of people as protected under article 21."