Three civil liberties defenders have issued legal notices to all chief ministers, telling them contempt proceedings would be sought against them if they failed to comply in two weeks with a Supreme Court order to supply free rations and other basic amenities to migrant labourers hit by the pandemic.
Anjali Bhardwaj, Harsh Mander and Jagdeep Chhokar have also addressed a separate letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reminding him of the Centre’s duty to comply with the court’s directives and pointing to the immense suffering of the migrant and unorganised sector workers.
The activists alleged that although the top court had on June 29 issued a slew of directives, including putting in place updated official websites mentioning the measures and facilities available to migrant labourers, neither the states nor the Centre had complied with the July 31 deadline.
The top court had asked the Centre and the states to ensure food and social security for migrant workers and unorganised workers, the sections hit the hardest by the pandemic. The court had directed the state governments to implement a scheme by July 31 to provide dry rations to migrant workers as long as the Covid-19 pandemic continued, in addition to offering them cooked food through community kitchens.
The notice sent to each individual chief minister by Bhardwaj, Mander and Chhokar stated: “We have perused the website of the food department of the state government and have been unable to locate any information with respect to the formulation and implementation of any such scheme for provision of dry rations to migrant workers pursuant to the Supreme Court’s judgment, even though the prescribed timeframe given by the Court has expired.
“By this notice, I therefore call upon you to formulate and implement a scheme for distribution of dry ration to migrant labourers immediately and certainly within the next two weeks, failing which we will be constrained to approach the Court for contempt proceedings against the state government. In case the government has put in place such a scheme, kindly place the details of the same in the public domain and also share them with us via post and/or email.”
The legal notices were sent on August 18 through advocate Prashant Bhushan.
In the letter addressed to Prime Minister Modi, dated August 16, the activists pointed to Para 80(i) of the apex court directive of June 29: “It is directed that the Central Government develop the Portal in consultation with the National Informatics Centre (NIC) for registration of the unorganised labourers/ migrant workers. We also impress upon and direct that the Central Government as well as the respective States and the Union Territories complete the process of Portal for registration under National Database for Unorganised Workers (NDUW Project) as well as implement the same, which by all means may commence not later than 31.07.2021.”
The court had also said, as quoted in the activists’ letter to the Prime Minister: “We also impress upon and direct that the process of registration of the unorganised labourers/migrant workers is completed at the earliest, but not later than 31.12.2021. All the concerned States/Union Territories and the Licence Holders/Contractors and others to cooperate with the Central Government to complete the process of registration of migrant workers and unorganised labourers so that the benefits of the welfare schemes declared by the Central Government/ State Governments/ Union Territories be available to migrant workers and unorganised labourers for whose benefits the welfare schemes are declared.”
These measures are crucial to ensure the food and social security of migrants and informal sector workers, “who are the backbone of the economy”, the activists wrote.
“They have suffered immensely during the first two waves of Covid-19 on account of loss of livelihoods, health crisis and exclusion from the social security net. Their meagre savings have been exhausted in coping with the crisis and many have gone into debt. It is imperative that the directions of the SC be operationalised on an urgent footing and details of the same be placed in the public domain. We hope that your government will immediately take concrete steps to ensure welfare of migrant and informal sector workers by implementing the directives of the apex court,” the letter to Modi stated.