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Written by:
Prachi Sethi
Published on

In the matter of Bandhua Mukti Morcha Versus Union of India & Ors, the Supreme Court interprets the fundamental right entrenched in Article 21 as the right to food and basic needs to execute the system of "one nation, one ration card" and the running of Community kitchens for migrants. The core of the testing stone, namely the Indian Constitution, is found in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The article protects the life and personal liberty of not just the citizens of India but acts a a fundamental right of a foreigner as well. It is the most organic and progressive article of our constitution and the foundation of our laws. The right to life is vital to our basic existence; without it, we cannot survive as human beings. It encompasses all elements of life that contribute to a man's life being meaningful, full, and worth living. It is the only article in the Constitution that has been given the broadest meaning imaginable. So many rights have sought refuge, development, and sustenance under the protection of Article 21.

Thus, the bare basics, minimal and basic requirements that are required and unavoidable for a person constitute the central concept of the right to life.

The bench, which included Justices Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah, held that all states and governments have a legal duty to provide food security for the poor.

The ruling was reached in a suo moto case filed by the Supreme Court in May 2020 to address migrant labour concerns. The following observations were made by the court:

Our Constitution requires that the ownership and control of the community's material resources be used to promote the welfare of the people by securing social and economic pestilence to the weaker section in order to serve the common good by minimising income inequalities and attempting to eliminate status inequalities.

  • All states and governments have a fundamental obligation to ensure food security to the poor as right to life provides to every human being right to dignified existence and access to basic necessities.

Taking notice of the fact that the Indian Constitution has no specific provision for the right to food, the court observed that there has been international awareness of human beings' right to food." The core notion of global food security is to guarantee that all people, at all times, have access to essential nourishment for an active and healthy life.

In order for the court to allocate and distribute food grains on a request from States for more food grains for the discharge of dry food grains to immigrant workers, the Central government, the Ministry of Food and Public Distribution. The Court further ordered the States to create a suitable dry ration distribution plan to migrant workers for which the states have to seek the Central government to give more food grains to the State as set out above.

The Hon’ble Court issued the following directions in the said case:

  • In cooperation with the National Informant Center (NIC), the Central Government is ordered to build the portal for the registration of unorganized employees.  Further the central and Union governments to finalize the registration process of the Portal to Unorganized Workers (NDUW Project) and to implement it, which may, by all means, start no later than 31.07.2021. The Registration procedure is subject to the NDUW Project. The court also  stressed and urged the completion at an earlier, but no later than 31.12.2021 of the registration procedure of unorganized employees/migrant workers. All States/Union Territories, License Holders and other parties to cooperate with the Central Government for the completion of migrants and non-organized workers registration to make available for migrant and unorganized workers, migrants and unorganized workers, the benefits of social security schemes stated by the Central/State Government/Union Territories.
  • As we undertake a further distribution to migrant workers of food grain by the central government, we direct the Central Government, Food and public distribution department (ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution), to assign and distribution of food grain according to the requests of the States / territories of the Union to migrant workers according to some State-sponsored scheme.
  • Ordered States to put in place an adequate dry-ration distribution plan for migratory workers, for which it is open for States to ask the Central Government to assign extra food grains to supply the State with the added food grains as specified above. The State shall examine and put in a relevant Scheme 78 that may take place on 31.07.2021 or later. This program may be sustained and run while the pandemic persists (Covid-19).
  • One Nation One Ration Card Scheme should be implemented by all the states not later than 31 July,2021.
  • In order to redefine the total numbers of individuals to be covered in rural and urban regions of the State, the Central Government may exert itself pursuant to Article 9 of the national Food Security Act 2013.
  • The court directed all States and the Territories of the Union to register and license all the enterprises pursuant to the Act of 1979, and guarantee complete compliance with a legal obligation placed on contractors to provide information on migrant workers.
  • The State/Union territory is aimed at managing community kitchens where there are many migrant workers, who do not have the resources to have two meals a day, to feed migrant workers. The communal kitchen operation should at least be sustained till the pandemic continues(Covid-19).