A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking directions to the central government to extend the provision of dry rations to stranded migrant workers for at least one year under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan scheme.
Activists Harsh Mander, Anjali Bharadwaj, and Jagdeep Chhokar moved the top court over the "food insecurity" of migrant workers filing an intervention application in an already pending suo moto case relating to miseries of migrants stranded across the country.
The central government had introduced the Atma Nirbhar cheme in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as per which, migrant workers who are not beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act or the state Public Distribution System will be provided free 5 kg of grains per person and 1 kg of pulses per family, per month for two months.
While the Atma Nirbhar Scheme was announced by the Centre for the benefit of the eight crore migrants workers, it was in effect only for a period of two months - May and June, submitted the application.
It further said that the scheme was not extended beyond the two months despite the Disaster Management Act still being in effect.
"The discontinuation of the provision of free cooked food (under another scheme) through shelters and relief centers is extremely concerning. Many migrant workers who have returned from their villages have not found employment or have only found part-time employment, earning a fraction of the wages and are unable to afford shelter and food," the application said.
It pointed out that despite the scheme, the food grains and pulses reached only a fraction of those without rations cards due to problems with the identification of beneficiaries and then in distribution by the states.
Suggesting that a proper "system for accountability" should be set up in each state, the activists added the Chief Secretaries of each state must be made personally responsible for ensuring that identification of migrant/stranded persons is completed in a time-bound manner and the full quota allocated to each state is distributed within 15 days.
"Further, simple criteria for identifying the migrant workers should be used such as self-certification as insistence on cumbersome procedures or production of documents will exclude the most vulnerable and marginalised," the application said.
The application sought continuation of the provisions of free hot cooked meals through designated relief camps and shelters for at least the next six months till December 2020.
It also sought directions to the Centre and the state governments to provide financial assistance to workers who were self-employed and those whose workplaces shut operations due to the economic hardships during the lockdown.
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