Supreme Court directs provision of dry rations & food from community kitchens for all migrant workers in the country

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published Published on May 24, 2021   modified Modified on May 27, 2021

-Press statement issued by Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj and Jagdeep Chhokar dated 24th May 2021

We welcome the important directions given by the Supreme Court today for ensuring food security of migrant workers across the country. The SC has directed that dry ration has to be distributed to migrant workers throughout the country by the States under the Atma Nirbhar Scheme or any other scheme found suitable by the States/Centre. Further, the SC has directed all the States/Union Territories to make operational community kitchens to provide food to migrant workers all over the country and ensure wide publicity of the locations of community kitchens. In the last hearing these measures were only restricted to migrant workers in the Delhi NCR area. We are happy to note that the plea to universalise it to all migrant workers across India has been accepted.

On April 29, 2021 we filed an intervention to the SC highlighting that the second wave of COVID-19 and the consequent lockdowns imposed by several states were once again disrupting the lives and livelihoods of migrant workers resulting in food insecurity and inability to afford even basic needs including rent and medical expenses. During the hearing today, it was highlighted that the situation is even worse than last year. People, especially the working poor, are facing a double crisis of health and economic distress. All evidence points to a deep economic crisis of job loss, reduced wages and shrinking of the economy and the manufacturing sector. Reports estimate that around 23 crore Indians have been pushed into poverty during the past one year ('State of Working India 2021: One Year of Covid-19' by Azim Premji University).  

The intervention sought provision of dry rations for migrant workers who do not possess ration cards through the Atma Nirbhar Bharat scheme, or any other scheme, to all 8 crore migrant labourers/ stranded or needy persons who were identified under the scheme last year. Further, it sought provision of free cooked food through networks of community kitchens, hunger relief and feeding centres at places where distressed migrant workers are congregating such as industrial areas, homeless shelters, bus stations, train stations and other areas to ensure no one remains hungry. To compensate for the loss of livelihood, the intervention prayed for cash transfers equivalent to the notified minimum wage of different states to all migrant workers for the period that economic activity is adversely impacted by lockdowns and also provision of affordable transport facility to those desirous of returning to their hometown. Finally, the petition sought for setting up of helplines for distressed migrant workers and for the state governments and central government to make public details of all social and food security schemes put in place for providing relief to migrant workers.

On the issue of cash transfers, the SC noted that while some states have made schemes for providing transfers to registered construction workers, no such scheme is in place with regard to other unorganised workers. The SC observed, “We are of the view that cash transfer is a matter of policy and scheme framed by each State/Union Territory and no direction for cash transfer can be issued by this Court to any category of person unless they are covered by any scheme formulated by the State/Union Territory. In the affidavits, which are to be filed by the States/Union Territories, details of the schemes regarding cash transfer be also brought on record.”

Taking into account the precarious condition, we hope the Centre and state governments will put in place schemes for cash transfers to all migrant and unorganised sector workers.

The SC had sought the status of registrations under various statutes meant for welfare of migrant workers. Despite directions last year by the SC, a perusal of the affidavits filed by the Union  of India and state governments show the slow pace at which registrations have happened with many of the portals and registration systems still at the stage of being developed. The SC has given directions for time-bound registrations under the various portals and laws to ensure that benefits reach migrant workers.

The intervenors were represented by Prashant Bhushan and Cheryl D’souza. The intervention applications, orders of the Supreme Court and the affidavits filed by UOI and the states can be accessed at the URL

Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj and Jagdeep Chhokar -- Intervenors in suo motu writ petition (civil) 6/2020 IA no. 58769/2021.

Please click here to access the Supreme Court of India's order dated 24 May 2021, which is related to suo motu writ petition (civil) 6/2020 IA no. 58769/2021.

Press statement issued by Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj and Jagdeep Chhokar dated 24th May 2021

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