Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Guidelines by the Supreme Court in the migrant labourers case


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : One nation, one ration card scheme

Mains level : Paper 2- Guidelines for providing relief to migrant workers


The Supreme Court on June 29 pronounced its judgment in the migrant labourers case. The case was initiated last year after the national lockdown was announced on March 24.

Guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court

  • Two of the most important components to protect the migrants during this time were the food and travel arrangements insisted on by the court.
  • In the orders pronounced in May this year, it laid down that dry ration be provided to migrants who want to return to their homes.
  • Further, the court said that identity proof should not be insisted upon by the governments since the labourers might not be able to furnish it.
  • Secondly, the court called upon the State governments to arrange transportation for workers who need to return to their homes.
  • The Supreme Court fixed July 31 as the deadline for the States to implement the ‘One nation One Ration Card’ scheme.
  • Apart from dry ration, the top court also directed the State governments to run community kitchens for migrant workers.
  • In the order passed on June 29, the court affirmed the Right to Food under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • In furtherance of this, the court asked the States to formulate their own schemes and issue food grains to migrants.
  • The top court recognised the need for direct cash benefit transfer to workers in the unorganised sector.
  • But it did not issue any guidelines for the same.


  • The Supreme Court has given a purposive declaration in the case but the bulk of the judgment seems declaratory rather than mandatory. 
  • Under the ‘One nation One Ration Card’ scheme, the States are to complete the registration of migrant workers in order to provide dry ration to them.
  • But it is unlikely that a standardised system can be developed within the deadline prescribed by the court.
  • There are administrative problems in running community kitchens for migrant workers.
  • First, migrant workers keep moving in search of employment and it is difficult to cover them all under the scheme.
  • Second, many States do not have the necessary infrastructure to run and maintain community kitchens on such a large scale.
  • The court asked the States to formulate their own schemes and issue food grains to migrants, but there are no normative data that would allow the States to identify eligible migrants.


In order to efficaciously implement the orders of the court, the State governments need to work with the Centre closely. It is imperative to ensure that government machinery works to its full potential and robust systems are developed to withstand the challenges of the looming third covid wave.

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