Letters to the editor: SC raps Centre on migrant database; Greece recovers stolen Picasso and Mondrian
Sir — Without mincing its words, the Supreme Court has stated that the labour ministry is “not alive to the concerns of the migrant workers” and its “non-action” is “strongly disapproved”. That the Narendra Modi government needed to be told by the court to ensure that no migrant worker goes hungry shows it in a rather unfavourable light.
The country’s top court has made it clear to the government that feeding the migrant workers cannot be made conditional on their possession of any card. It is a meaningful reminder to the Centre that the right to food, a basic need, is an intrinsic part of the right to live with dignity. As an entity tasked with upholding the right to life, the government cannot turn its back on the migrant workers when they need its support the most.
The failure of the government to set up the national database for unorganized workers, a portal for migrant and unorganized workers to ensure their rights, welfare and food security has drawn flak from the apex court, which pointed out the Centre’s “unpardonable apathy”. The government expends a lot of time, money and energy on building the Central Vista and carrying out the delimitation exercise in Jammu and Kashmir. But it is least interested in keeping an updated register of migrant workers, a task that can be accomplished with Rs 45.39 crore and allotting rations to states commensurate with the present population. The government is so callous that it blames the delay in finalizing the NDUW module on ‘software problems’. It is now left to set right the problem by July 31, the deadline set by the Supreme Court.
Thanks to the apex court’s intervention, all migrant workers, wherever they are, will have access to dry rations and instantly eatable food from government-run outlets and community kitchens to stave off hunger till the pandemic lasts. The Supreme Court has stopped short of asking the government to support the migrant workers through direct cash transfers, leaving the decision to the government since it is a “matter of policy”.
Migrant workers make up nearly one-third of the country’s population. The government’s concern for them would reflect its concern for the nation. Therefore, the Centre’s patriotism is on test.
G. David Milton,
Maruthancode, Tamil Nadu
Sir — The Supreme Court’s rap on the Union labour ministry’s “apathy and lackadaisical attitude” towards setting up a migrant database, in spite of its directives as far back as August 2018 in the context of the implementation of the National Food Security Act, is quite a strong judicial indictment. The court recognized that such a database is central to the identification of migrant and unorganized workers in need of rations and other benefits. The bench has directed the labour secretary to ensure that the portal is launched by July 31. One hopes that the Prime Minister’s Office, which failed to monitor the implementation of the court’s 2018 directives, complies with its order this time. Those responsible for the “unpardonable” failure to set up the migrant database should also be prosecuted for dereliction of duty.
The entire nation was witness to how hard the migrant labourers were hit by the lockdown thoughtlessly announced by the prime minister last year at less than four hours’ notice, with no contingency plans to mitigate their hardships. While this labour force contributes massively to developmental activities at sites far away from their homes, they are voiceless in the absence of recognized associations when it comes to engaging in collective negotiations with employers for the improvement of working conditions. The labour ministry must therefore encourage the formation of such labour unions.
Sir — The apex court ordering the Centre to implement the ‘one nation, one ration card’ scheme and provide dry ration to migrant workers at their place of work until the pandemic subsides is heartening. The court has also commendably asked all states and Union territories to run community kitchens for them. The spree of lockdowns and curfews have left workers of the unorganized sector in a lurch. The photographs of the desperate march of millions of migrant workers to their faraway homes in the scorching heat during the first wave of the pandemic highlighted their plight. It is shameful for the government that it has not planned remedies for such situations even after a year.
Nellimarla, Andhra Pradesh
Sir — The ‘one nation, one ration card’ scheme is of great importance as it will allow any migrant labourer to obtain ration from any part of the country. However, owing to some political reasons, a few states and Union territories have not yet implemented it. Taking note of this, the Supreme Court has now asked all regional governments to implement the system by July 31.
There are hundreds of migrant workers who are employed outside their home states and do not have ration cards. It is then the duty of the government of the state in which they are staying to provide them food during these difficult times.
Lost and found
Sir — Greece must be congratulated on having retrieved two stolen paintings — Pablo Picasso’s Woman’s Head and Piet Mondrian’s Stammer Mill. These will now be exhibited at the National Gallery as part of celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence. People often do not recognize the significance of museum heists — the loss of artefacts does not affect only the influential class or connoisseurs. Artefacts are markers of the cultural history of a nation. For instance, Woman’s Head is said to have been gifted by Picasso to the Greek for having resisted fascism; its loss would have been immeasurable.