Qutub Minar replica at deserted NH-9 Delhi Meerut expressway during the nationwide lockdown to fight Coronavirus in New Delhi on March 31, 2020. (Photo by Mohd Zakir/ Hindustan Times)
Qutub Minar replica at deserted NH-9 Delhi Meerut expressway during the nationwide lockdown to fight Coronavirus in New Delhi on March 31, 2020. (Photo by Mohd Zakir/ Hindustan Times)

‘No one is now on road’: Centre to Supreme Court on migrant workers leaving in droves

The directions by the top court came after the central government informed the court on Tuesday that the large scale exodus of migrant workers has been brought under control and all of them have been taken to shelter homes.
Hidustan Times, New Delhi | By Murali Krishnan
UPDATED ON MAR 31, 2020 05:00 PM IST

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the central government to ensure that basic facilities like food, water and medicines are provided at shelter homes where thousands of people including migrant workers, who were fleeing cities for their native villages, have been temporarily housed.

The directions by the top court came after the central government informed the court on Tuesday that the large scale exodus of migrant workers has been brought under control and all of them have been taken to shelter homes.

“I have instructions to state that no one is now on the road. Anyone who was outside has been taken to the available shelters”, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Centre’s second senior-most law officer, told the court.

The apex court was hearing two petitions, one by advocates Rashmi Bansal and Anuj Gupta and another by advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava which brought the plight of the migrant labourers to the notice of the court.

The lockdown in the country, which began on March 25, led to an exodus of labourers from large cities to their far-off native towns and villages. The situation in Delhi took a turn for the worse when thousands of persons crowded the Anand Vihar Bus station in East Delhi to travel to their native state of Uttar Pradesh. Further, many of them set out on foot along with their families as public transport was not available.

The top court had, on Monday, sought a status report from the central government in this regard.

In its affidavit filed before the court on Tuesday, the centre detailed the various steps taken by it to mitigate the threat of Coronavirus.

It said that the first step to address concern came on January 7 when the union health secretary addressed state health secretaries to take actions to deal with the situation, including ensuring adequate hospital preparedness.

It submitted that 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 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 Centre also drew the attention of the court to fake and inaccurate reporting of news connected with the coronavius threat, claiming that such news can cause panic and serious harm to the entire country. It, therefore, prayed that a direction should be issued to the print, electronic and social media not to publish anything without first ascertaining the true factual position by way of a mechanism provided by the central government.

The bench, comprising Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao, asked the Centre to form a committee of experts to address queries of citizens regarding the coronavirus threat. It also underscored the need to prevent the spread of false and incorrect information through social media platforms and gave a green signal to the authorities to take strict action against those spreading fake news.

Further, the hearing on Tuesday was also privy to the discussion on steps to be taken to avoid panic among residents of shelter homes. The centre suggested roping in services of trained counselors and religious and community leaders to counsel those lodged in shelter homes, a suggestion which the court readily accepted.

The case will be heard next on April 7.

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