Coronavirus | Treat migrants humanely, Supreme Court tells officials

It asks govt. to set up a panel and open a portal to put out authentic information about the virus.

Updated - April 01, 2020 12:52 am IST

Published - March 31, 2020 02:55 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A team of police officials distribute food pockets migrant labourers at Ambattur Estate in Chennai on Tuesday.

A team of police officials distribute food pockets migrant labourers at Ambattur Estate in Chennai on Tuesday.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the police and the authorities to treat migrant workers journeying home in fear of COVID-19 in a humane manner.

“We expect those concerned to appreciate the trepidation of the poor men, women and children and treat them with kindness... The anxiety and fear of the migrants should be understood by the police and other authorities. As directed by the Union of India, they should deal with the migrants in a humane manner. Considering the situation, we are of the opinion that the State governments/Union Territories should endeavour to engage volunteers along with the police to supervise the welfare activities for the migrants,” a Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde, said.

Also read |Lockdown displaces lakhs of migrants

The court ordered the government to ensure that migrant workers stopped from crossing the inter-State borders were given food, shelter and medicines. The government said it was imperative to stop the mass migration as there was a likelihood that three out of every 10 workers might be carrying the coronavirus. The court expressed its satisfaction with the government measures.

The Bench, through videoconferencing, asked the government to urge community and religious leaders to speak to the migrant workers lodged in shelters. It asked the government to have trained counsellors talk to the workers.

Authentic information

The court directed the government, represented by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, to set up an expert committee and a dedicated portal within 24 hours to disseminate authentic information about the virus and stop the spread of fake news. A status report filed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs said the propagation of deliberate or inadvertent false information was the “single most unimaginable hindrance” faced by the government in its battle against the virus.

The Bench, comprising Justice L. Nageswara Rao, asked the government to follow up on persons identified as infected and quarantined.

Mr. Mehta said the lockdown was necessary to stop the spread of infection, and all the people found walking back were shifted to the nearest shelters. When the court asked whether the State governments were following the Centre’s direction on mass movement, Mr. Mehta replied that the Centre had requested the States to do so. “We are facing an unprecedented situation. There is a need for unprecedented orders,” Mr. Mehta justified the 21-day lockdown.

Editorial |Short end of the stick

Chief Justice Bobde said that Section 188 (disobedience to order promulgated by public servant) of the IPC makes it a penal offence to disobey orders made by government authorities in public interest. A person found guilty under the provision can face a six-month term of imprisonment or a fine of Rs. 1000 or both.

The court, on March 30, sought a report from the government on the steps taken about the largescale movement of workers. Tuesday’s order came on petitions by advocates Alakh Alok Srivastava and Rashmi Bansal for a direction to the government to redress the “heart-wrenching and inhuman plight of thousands of migrant workers” walking back to their villages from the cities without essentials.

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