The government told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that there is a possibility that three out of 10 people moving from cities to rural areas are carrying coronavirus disease Covid-19.
The submission was made by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Centre in the hearing on two public interest litigations (PILs). The hearing was held by video conferencing.
Referring to the last census, Mehta who addressed the court from his office chamber, said there were about 4.14 crore people had migrated for work, but backward migration is now happening due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The court directed the Centre to ensure that migrant workers kept in shelter homes are given food, medical aid, and also asked it to take assistance of trained counsellers and religious leaders of all faiths to help the migrants overcome their panic as “panic will destroy more lives than the virus”.
“We want to impress upon you that the panic will destroy more lives than the virus. You need counsellors,” the bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao said, adding, “you can have ‘Bhajan, Kirtan, Namaz’ or whatever but you have to give strength to the people.”
The court also asked the central government to set up within 24 hours a portal for dissemination of real-time information on the Covid-19 pandemic to counter the panic and fear being spread through fake news.
Mehta told the bench that no migrant worker, who had left for their native places after being rendered jobless due to a 21-day nationwide lockdown, “is on the road now”. He also said that authorities would mobilise religious leaders to counsel the migrants in shelters so that they could stay calm.
The PILs demanded direction from the court for the government to provide thousands of migrant workers who are rendered homeless and jobless due to the lockdown with relief, including food, water, medicines and proper medical facilities.
Mehta said that the migration of people cannot be allowed at this juncture as this would spread the virus in villages.
The bench adjourned the hearing on the PILs to April 7 while refusing to restrain the high courts from taking up the issue of migrants, saying that they may monitor the issue more closely.
According to the Union home ministry, there are over 21,000 relief camps set up across the country where more than 6.6 lakh destitute people and those stranded because of the Covid-19 lockdown are sheltered.