The Supreme Court on Friday asked the West Bengal government to immediately implement the ‘one nation one ration card’ scheme.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R, Shah said no excuse will be considered and the state must implement the scheme, as the state government counsel submitted that there are Aadhaar seeding issues. The bench said: “You cannot cite one or the other problem. This is for migrant workers.”
The top court was hearing the suo moto case addressing the problems and miseries of migrant workers amid the Covid pandemic. Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that there were nearly 2.8 crore migrants without ration cards, and they are under serious difficulty as they would not be covered under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana.
The bench noted that the scheme has been extended till November, but Dave said the scheme will benefit only those who have ration cards.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta pointed out that 80 crore have been identified under the Garib Kalyan scheme.
As the bench queried what scheme will cover the people who don’t have ration cards, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati replied that the latitude has been left to the states and it is for the states to have schemes for those who do not have ration cards.
The bench noted that the Centre is ready to distribute food grains, and it has to see what mechanism can be adopted. Dave, however, argued that the Centre is trying to pass the burden on states.
The bench said that there are states that don’t have such schemes, and can the Garib Kalyan scheme be temporarily extended to also those who don’t have the ration cards. To this, Mehta said that the Centre’s officials can have talks with the Secreatries concerned in the states and come back after a week. “Nobody is leaving them to die. There are schemes to help them,” he said.
During the hearing, counsel for the Maharashtra and Punjab governments informed the court that they follow the one nation one ration card scheme. At this stage, the West Bengal government counsel submitted that the state has not implemented the scheme yet and the bench said that it has to implement it when the others have.
The top court asked the states to file short response in the matter and reserved the judgment.
It also expressed dissatisfaction over the delay in the development of software by Centre for registration of unorganised workers. “You initiated it in August 2020, and it is still not over,” it said, adding that the Centre is not conducting any survey but only creating a module so that data can be fed into the mechanism. Mehta replied that court’s concerns are right, and he will take instructions in the matter.
At this, the bench said that this can’t be left to bureaucracy anymore. “Your officers have done nothing. Just because your directors etc don’t have time, this can’t be put on hold forever,” said the bench pulling up the Centre.
Mehta requested the court not to pass order on extension of the scheme, as it may have financial ramifications. The bench responded that it understands the matter.
The top court was hearing an application by activists Harsh Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj, and Jagdeep Chhokar, seeking directions to ensure that migrant workers are not deprived of ration and food security, and they should also be able to travel back to their homes at nominal cost.