New Delhi, March 30: Taking note of large-scale movement of migrant workers from cities to their native places on foot after the coronavirus lockdown, the Supreme Court on Moday said fear and panic is a “bigger problem than the virus”, and sought a status report from the Centre by Tuesday on the measures taken to prevent the exodus.
The apex court observation came even as the Central government issued orders to the States and Union Territories to make it a personal responsibility of District Magistrates to arrange food and shelter for stranded workers waiting to reach their native places after the imposition of the 21-day lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
Joint Secretary in the Union home ministry Punya Salila Srivastava said the ministry has already issued orders on Sunday asking landlords to not seek a month’s rent from migrant workers and also to not ask for vacating their property, while the Maharashtra government announced setting up of the 262 relief camps for migrant labourers where they will be provided food and shelter.
The nationwide lockdown sparked the exodus of hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers who undertook long journeys from major urban cities on foot to their native places in last five days, threatening to overturn the benefits of the lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus, which has claimed over 34,500 lives globally and infected over 7.27 lakh.
Hearing two separate PILs which sought relief, including food, water, medicines and proper medical facilities, for thousands of migrant workers who are rendered homeless and jobless due to the lockdown, a bench of Chief Justice Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao said said before passing any direction, it would like to wait for the status report from the centre.
The bench heard the PILs, filed by advocates Alakh Alok Srivastava and Rashmi Bansal, through video conferencing.
Asserting that the migration needs to be stopped to contain the spread of the virus, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the Central and concerned states governments have taken requisite steps to deal with it.
Referring to various news stories, Srivastava, petitioner in-person, said there is a lack of cohesion and cooperation among the states on the issue of migration of labourers. The Uttar Pradesh government initially provided buses for movement of migrant labourers for two days and now they have stopped the service, he added.
Reacting to Mehta’s submission that Centre would like to file the status report on affidavit on the steps taken, the bench said, “we would not deal with the things, which the government is already doing. We would like to wait for the report of the Centre”.
Bansal, another petitioner in-person, said medical and safety measures are required for these migrant labourers. She also suggested that sanitisers can be sprinkled on the groups of migrant labourers to disinfect them, and mid-day meal providers should be roped in to provide food.
To Bansal’s remarks, the bench said, “you are assuming that government is not doing anything. It is advising us on what steps to be taken. Let us see what they are doing. Let them file a common reply on both these petitions .
Bansal said counsellors could be deployed for these migrant workers, who are trying to leave cities due to fear and panic.
“This fear and panic is a bigger problem than this virus”, the bench observed, adding, “we are not going to add to the confusion by issuing directions which are already being taken care of by the government.”
The bench posted the matters for further hearing on Tuesday.
Srivastava in his plea had sought direction to the Centre to redress the plight of thousands of migrant workers who along with their families are “walking on foot” to reach their native places amid the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide lockdown.
The plea has also sought a direction to the authorities to identify such stranded migrant workers and provide them with food, water, medicines and proper medical facilities.
“With Railways and buses suspended, several of such migrant workers are walking for kilometres to reach their villages. Many are unable to make it across state borders and thus are left stranded on roads, without food, water or shelter. There is a large-scale human distress,” his plea said.
The separate plea, filed by advocates Bansal and Anuj Gupta, contended that “mass exodus” of migrant workers from cities to their villages could further spread the virus.
The plea also said states should be directed to stop migrants wherever they were, and allow their movement only after they are sanitised.
It said that direction should be given to the authorities to create awareness regarding the measures taken by the government, including provision of free food grains and other essential items through PDS, and streamline the procedures to stop fear and chaos among these people.
Meanwhile, a group of migrants heading home was hosed down with a chlorine solution in Bareilly, triggering criticism and then an admission from the local authorities that they went too far. The incident, caught on video and shared on social media, took place at Bareilly’s Satellite bus station on Sunday.
A official, however, argued that such spraying of people is permitted internationally. But the authorities did not follow the right procedure, he said. (PTI)