Why the Supreme Court order on registration of migrant workers is welcome

SourceThe Indian Express

Relevance: The problems of Migrant workers and lack of social protection needs urgent reforms

Synopsis:  Recently, the Supreme Court mandated a portal for the registration of all informal/migrant workers. This is one of the radical judgments aimed to reduce human suffering in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Important observations by the court:
  • The court explicitly recognizes the critical contribution of migrant workers to the economy. It reminds us that workers in the unorganized sector (around 93 percent) need to be able to access numerous welfare schemes in existence.
  • The court also pointed out that the main barrier preventing access is the delay in registering workers on the national database of the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
  • The court also stated that “tall claims” made by various states about the schemes introduced to help migrant workers are ineffective without registration.
  • Further, the court called for taking all measures to register migrant workers under the three laws that are in place to protect labour and migrant workers. Namely,
    • 1979 Interstate Migrant Workmen Act
    • The 1996 Building and Other Construction Workers Act
    • The 2008 Unorganised Sector Social Security Act
  • Furthermore, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution has been ordered to allocate additional food grains to the states. It will be used for the disbursement of dry food grains to migrant workers under the One Nation One Ration Card scheme under the National Food Security Act.
Read MoreMigrants Workers, Who Returned to Cities Earned five-fold : Study
Other Supreme court interventions on Migrant workers:
  • Earlier in May, the court declared that authorities shall not insist on an ID card and accept “self-declaration” from workers to access welfare programs.
  • Similarly, in June, the court held that the lack of documentation cannot be used as an excuse by the state to abdicate its responsibility, especially during the pandemic.
Read more: Migrant workers and their Social protection in India – Explained, pointwise
Challenges with the migrant workers:
  • Employers and contractors collude to keep workers in perpetual precarity to protect themselves against losses caused by shocks such as Covid.
  • Challenges in registration: Migrants experience a variety of problems with registration, ranging from digital illiteracy, corruption, and the requirement of multiple documents. The exclusion was markedly worse among the lower castes, who were not treated with dignity.
  • Labour departments are also facing serious manpower and capacity shortage to carry out the Supreme Court order.


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