Coronavirus lockdown: SC asks govt to ensure basic amenities to migrant workers

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Published: April 1, 2020 1:15:32 AM

There was an institutional response by the Centre and the situation was monitored at the highest political and executive level by the Prime Minister, the government said.

The Supreme Court had on Monday sought a report from the government on steps taken about the large-scale inter-state movement of migrant workers.The Supreme Court had on Monday sought a report from the government on steps taken about the large-scale inter-state movement of migrant workers.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Central government to ensure that basic facilities like food, water and medicines are provided to the migrant workers, who have been stopped from crossing inter-state borders, and are now temporarily kept at shelter homes in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, asked the government through video conferencing to rope in community and religious leaders and also trained counsellors to talk to the migrant workers who are fleeing cities for their native villages.

It also asked the Centre to not use force against the migrants. “Let volunteers manage the shelters, not the police. There should be no use of force or intimidation,” the CJI said.

Observing that ‘panic will destroy more lives than the virus’, the apex court directed the government to set up an expert committee to address queries of citizens regarding the coronavirus threat and also a dedicated portal within 24 hours to disseminate authentic information and prevent the spread of false and incorrect information through social media platforms. It also gave nod to the authorities to take strict action against those spreading fake news.

The bench also ordered the government to do follow-ups on persons who were identified as infected and quarantined. The next date of hearing is on April 7.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta told the apex court that ‘I have instructions to state that no one is now on the road. Anyone who was outside has been taken to the available shelters. The mass migration from cities to villages had to be stopped’.

The Centre said that no migrant worker was stranded on the road and that 6.68 lakh have been provided temporary accommodation with 22.88 lakh being provided food across the country.

“We are considering providing counselling to address the panic. Over 22.8 lakh people are being provided with food. These are needy persons, migrants, and daily wagers,” Mehta said.

He told the SC that there was a possibility that three out of every 10 migrant workers moving from cities to rural areas was carrying the virus and the government would stop migrant workers from returning to their homes since it was risky for them and for the people in the villages.

The Supreme Court had on Monday sought a report from the government on steps taken about the large-scale inter-state movement of migrant workers.

Justifying the lockdown, Mehta said that the 21-day lockdown was absolutely necessary to stop the spread of infection. “We are facing an unprecedented situation. There is a need for unprecedented orders,” he added.

“India has taken preemptive and proactive steps. Preparations started 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,” the SG said, adding that in India the spread of the virus was less compared to other countries.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs in its status report said that the propagation of deliberate or inadvertent false information was the ‘single most unmanageable hindrance’ faced by the government in its battle against the pandemic.

Apprising the top court about the steps being taken since the outbreak of Covid-19, it said that the Centre had enhanced testing capacity from a single laboratory in January to 118 labs now, with a total capacity of 15,000 tests per day. Besides, the Central government has coordinated with 47 private laboratory chains who have more than 20,000 collection centres in the country.

Over 25 lakh persons have been screened at airports, 40,000 at 12 sea ports, 65 at minor ports and 20 lakh at all land borders. As many as 3.5 lakh persons were being monitored, the SG said.

There was an institutional response by the Centre and the situation was monitored at the highest political and executive level by the Prime Minister, the government said.

The status report stated that, “the Central government initiated the timely actions and geared up all its ministries much more before WHO declared Covid-19 to be a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’.”

“Very few countries of the world responded as timely the way India responded as a result of which the spread of Covid-19 is capable of being contained in our country so far,” it said.

Steps are being taken to raise awareness among the general public on hygiene and preventive strategies through media including social media, daily press briefings by health ministry officials and related ministries, it said, adding that authentic and requisite guidelines, advisories etc. are being disseminated through the website of the Union health ministry.

The affidavit also stated that thermal screening of passengers from China, Hong Kong started on January 18 at three international airports. Further, various travel advisories were issued, the first one coming as early as January 30 and, by March 4, thermal screening was initiated for all international flights and symptomatic patients were directly taken to isolation wards in tertiary care hospitals attached to airports.

The order came on two petitions filed separately by advocates Alakh Alok Srivastava and Rashmi Bansal seeking directions to the government to look into the plight of the migrant labourers fleeing from cities.

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