COVID: Activists move SC, seek food security, cash transfer, transport for migrant workers

NEW DELHI: Three activists have moved the Supreme Court seeking directions to the Centre and states to ensure food security, cash transfers, transport facilities and other welfare measures for migrant workers who are again facing distress due to curbs clamped in parts of the country amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

In May last year, the top court had taken suo motu cognizance of problems and miseries of migrant labourers and had passed a slew of directions, including asking the states not to charge fare from migrant workers and provide them food for free till they board trains or buses.

It had asked the Centre and states to identify and send back within 15 days stranded migrant workers willing to return to their native places and advocated for their counselling and help to find avenues of employment lost during COVID-19 induced nationwide lockdown last year.

Referring to the resurgence of COVID-19 infections and consequent curbs, activists – Anjali Bharadwaj, Harsh Mander and Jagdeep Chhokar — have filed the interim plea in the 2020 suo motu case through lawyer Prashant Bhushan seeking initiation of welfare measures again.

“The problems and miseries faced by migrant workers during the lockdown in 2020 have persisted over the past year due to the continued economic distress and now have got aggravated on account of fresh restrictions, curfews and lockdowns being imposed in many states to control the spread of COVID,” the fresh plea, filed on Wednesday, said.

Migrant workers are again bearing the brunt of “these policies” and urgent intervention is required to address issues like loss of livelihood and means of income on account of the restrictions and lockdowns resulting in people being unable to pay for basic needs like food and rent, it said.

The plea stated, there was again a lack of proper arrangement for safe and free travel back to their hometowns and villages when lockdowns were announced.

“Direct the UOI (Union of India) to resume its scheme of providing dry rations under the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ scheme, or any other scheme designed for that purpose, to all eight crore migrant labourers/stranded or needy persons who are not covered under the National Food Security Act or state PDS cards and were identified under the said scheme last year, for at least such time that the Disaster Management Act is in force by issuance of COVID ration cards,” it said.

The plea sought direction to the Centre and states to provide free cooked food through networks of community kitchens, hunger relief and feeding centres especially at places where distressed migrant workers are congregating.

It has also sought direction for authorities to “ensure 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/restrictions to compensate for the loss of livelihood and income.”

“Direct the UOI and state governments to furnish details of the social and food security schemes put in place and the plans formulated under the Disaster Management Act for providing relief to migrant works on account of the adversities suffered due to the lockdown restrictions and curfews being imposed in different states,” it said.

Direction has been sought for the Centre and states to provide transport by buses and trains at nominal fare while ensuring adherence to COVID protocols to migrant workers across the country, the plea said.

It said fresh restrictions imposed by several governments to curb the spread of the second wave of COVID-l9 has caused immense distress in the lives of the economically vulnerable sections of society especially migrant workers.

“Across several states, migrant workers, having lost their means of livelihood on account of the restrictions imposed, are unable to sustain themselves and there is large scale distress migration back to their hometowns.”

“No proper relief measures to mitigate the economic hardships being faced by migrant workers have been announced when the lockdowns were put in place leading to a precarious situation. The loss of livelihood and means of income is causing food insecurity among migrant workers and their families,” it said.