- The Supreme Court hearing petitions seeking relief for migrant workers
- No migrants on road "as of 11 am": centre to Supreme Court amid lockdown
- Chief Justice asked centre to set up expert committee within 24 hours
Migrants stopped on their long journey home and sent to shelters amid the coronavirus lockdown should get food, medical aid and counselling from leaders of all religions, the Supreme Court today told the centre, which stated that "as of 11 am on Tuesday", there were no migrants on the roads.
"You will ensure that all those whose migration you have stopped are taken care of in terms of food, shelter, nourishment and medical aid," Chief Justice SA Bobde told the central government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
The court also talked about calming the fear among migrants about their future after being abruptly left without jobs or homes because of the 21-day lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
"We want to impress upon you that the panic will destroy more lives than the virus. You need counsellors. You can have bhajan, kirtan, namaz or whatever but you have to give strength to the people," said the court, urging the government to rope in leaders of all faiths to counsel migrants in shelters. "Ensure trained counsellors and community leaders of all faiths visit relief camps and prevent panic," it said.
"I am making statement here that within 24 hours we will mobilise trained counselors and religious leaders. We will mobilise religious leaders, maulvis, sadhus to counsel them to stay calm," the Solicitor General told the Supreme Court. He said all migrants had been put up in shelters and none were on the road anymore.
"We are trying to ensure that no migration is permitted. It would be risky for them and for the village populations. So far, rural India is unaffected by coronavirus but there is possibility of three out of 10 moving from cities to rural areas carrying the virus," he added.
The Supreme Court was hearing petitions seeking directions to provide food and shelter to migrant workers.
Risking infection and also endangering thousands, the migrants started walking towards their home states after all public transport was suspended over a week ago. Heartbreaking stories have emerged of their sufferings on the long journey; one man even died of heat and hunger. Others walked with their belongings and their families, prepared for a journey of four to five days. They crowded state borders – against social distancing rules critical to stop the virus from spreading -- as they were stopped by policemen from crossing over.
The centre complained that in its efforts to fight coronavirus, "fake news" was the biggest challenge.
"India has taken preemptive and proactive steps. Preparations stated on January 17. So far, we have been able to contain the spread of the virus much to our satisfaction. We took steps much ahead of what many other countries did," said the Solicitor General, adding that in India the spread of the virus was less than in other countries.
The Chief Justice asked the centre to set up within 24 hours a portal to disseminate real time information on the pandemic, in order to check fake news.
"Take steps for prevention of misinformation through social media too, including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok," said Justice L Nageswara Rao.
India has over 1,200 coronavirus patients and 32 have died.