A public interest litigation (PIL) has been jointly filed in the Bilaspur High Court by the Right to Food Campaign Chhattisgarh, Chhattisgarh Hawkers’ Federation, Jayendra Jha and Amarnath Pandey, urging the Union government and the state government to exercise the powers granted to them to take immediate steps to guarantee social security and welfare measures to the various vulnerable sections of the society which have been affected by the shutdown due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The grounds quoted by the petition include provisions under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, Article 47 of the Constitution of India, the National Food Security Act, 2013, Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, Essential Commodities Act, 1957, Disaster Management Act, 2005, Chhattisgarh Food Security Act, Unorganised Worker Social Security Act, 2008, Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act 2014, and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005. Guidelines of the World Health Organisation and state-wise comparison of the social security measures have also been included in the PIL.
The petitioners have urged the state government and the Union government to pay monthly unemployment allowances to all workers, including the unorganised sector workers registered with the labour department -- construction workers, daily wage workers, street vendors and loaders. They have said that this should continue for as long as the crisis persists. The petitioners have also urged the government to increase the existing social security pensions for senior citizens, people with disabilities, and widows by 50% and to pay it in advance by April 1, 2020.
Another demand made by the petitioners is that each gram panchayat should have at least two functional worksites under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), offering at least 50 days of work to each registered family between April 1 and June 15, 2020.
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The PIL also lists several demands related to the public distribution system (PDS). It says that there should be a 50% increase in quantity over earlier entitlement, provided free of cost for the poorest sections (families holding Priority Ration Cards and Antyodaya Ration Cards), and the rations for three months should be provided in advance. A statement released by the petitioners says, “The state government should ensure that the PDS shops are well stocked with grains, vegetables and other essentials to enable beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act to purchase the same from the PDS Shops.”
The PIL urges the state government to arrange free lunch and dinner for the urban poor and destitutes in government run community kitchens near bus stands, railway stations, hospitals, religious places, etc, and to deliver ration, hand wash, gloves, and make them available to the public at the PDS shops.
The petitioners also made several demands about healthcare. They said in the statement that the governments should “ensure that all front line workers in the essential services, not restricted to but particularly in health, law and order, sanitation services and utilities, are provided with protective gear and medical facilities” as well as demanded decentralisation of the testing and treatment for COVID-19.
They have urged the governments to take steps for the local production of testing kits for the novel coronavirus, medicines and protective gear by engaging local self help groups, support groups, voluntary organisations, and others.
The PIL also asks the governments to utilise government buildings, schools and colleges, public halls, hostels, and stadiums to temporarily house homeless people, stranded daily wage workers and other slum dwellers, and to restore public transport in terms of bus for routine patients to reach hospitals and healthcare and for Auxilliary Nurse Midwives, nurses, other healthcare workers and support staff to reach their duties.
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