New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said the process of registration of migrant workers is “very slow” and it must be expedited so that benefit of various schemes can be extended to them amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The apex court observed it is “not happy” with the efforts of the Centre as well as the states on the issue of registration of unorganised workers.
While stressing on the need to register migrant as well as unorganised workers, a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M R Shah said the benefit of schemes meant for them can be extended after they are identified and registered by authorities.
“The process of registration is very slow. We are not happy with the efforts undertaken by the Centre and states on registration of unorganised workers,” the bench said.
The top court said the government must ensure that benefit of schemes reach the beneficiaries, including migrant workers, and the process must be monitored and supervised.
The apex court was hearing an application filed by three activists who have sought directions to the Centre and states to ensure food security, cash transfers, transport facilities and other welfare measures for migrant workers who are facing distress due to the curbs clamped in several parts of the country amid the pandemic.
The top court said it had last year passed directions regarding registration of migrant workers.
The bench said for extending the benefits of schemes, the authorities must complete the process of registration and the government should also reach to these workers to complete it expeditiously.
“We want this process to the completed. We also want that all organised workers be registered,” it said, adding, “We will ask the government to speed up the process”.
“It is a difficult task but has to be achieved,” the bench said, adding, “Our main concern is that benefits meant for them must reach them”.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, the bench told the counsel appearing for Gujarat that if the contractors and employers are not cooperating in the process of registration of workers then the state government may consider cancelling their licences.
The top court said there must be supervision of these benefit schemes to ensure that it reaches the beneficiaries concerned.
“On paper, we have everything which says that government has spent thousands of crores on this, but the issue is whether it is reaching to the concerned persons. You have to monitor and supervise it,” the bench observed.
“It is the anxiety of the court that the benefit of schemes must reach to the concerned person,” the bench said, adding that it would pass order in the matter during the day.
The bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, that the apex court had in 2018 dealt with another matter in which the Ministry of Labour and Employment had said that it has started a national database of unorganised workers.
It asked Mehta to apprise the court about the present status of the national database of unorganised workers.
“This registration should be completed and it should be on an all-India basis,” the bench said. “The benefit of all schemes can be extended only when they are registered”.
The solicitor general said he would take instructions on this and would get back to the court.
At the outset, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the applicants, said he has gone through the affidavits filed by some of the states as directed by the court earlier.
“One unfortunate fact emerges from the affidavits of states and also the Centre that they have not re-started the ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat Scheme’ which they had started last year,” he said, adding that dry ration must be provided to the migrant workers.
When Bhushan argued about cash transfer to migrant workers citing the hardships faced by them due the pandemic, the bench said it is a “policy decision” and the apex court had not passed any direction about it earlier.
The bench said it would ask the states to file better affidavits indicating all the steps taken by them, including on the issue of registration of workers.
On May 13, the top court had directed Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to open community kitchens in the national capital region (NCR) for stranded migrant workers amid the current wave of COVID-19 pandemic and facilitate transportation for labourers who want to return home.
Passing a slew of interim directions, the apex court had also directed that dry ration be provided to them in NCR under ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat Scheme’ or any other scheme by the Centre and governments of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
In May last year, the top court had taken suo motu cognizance of problems and miseries of migrant labourers amid pandemic 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.
Referring to resurgence of COVID-19 infections and consequent curbs, activists -- Anjali Bharadwaj, Harsh Mander and Jagdeep Chhokar -- have filed the fresh interim plea in the suo motu case seeking initiation of welfare measures.