31 March 2020
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to rope in community leaders of various faiths to conduct 'bhajan-kirtan' and 'namaz' to check panic among migrant workers in shelter homes amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, cited the Home Secretary and told the court: "As of 11 a.m. today, no migrant worker is on the road."
A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice L. Nageswara Rao held the hearing through video conferencing on a plea by advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava seeking directions to provide food and shelter to migrant workers left helpless after the imposition of the nationwide lockdown to control the outbreak of coronavirus.
Mehta insisted people have been taken to the nearest available shelter.
The Chief Justice also asked the government to set up an expert committee within 24 hours.
The Centre contended that the menace of fake news was a biggest challenge. "The country has taken preemptive and proactive steps. The government will shortly implement a system where panic among migrant workers is addressed. We have trained counselors at the district mental programme, we can send them," Mehta said.
The Chief Justice replied, "We want to impress upon you that the panic will destroy more lives than the virus. You need counselors. You can have bhajan, kirtan, namaz or whatever, but you have to give strength to the people."
Mehta replied, "We will mobilize religious leaders -- maulvis, sadhus -- to counsel the people in the shelter homes."
The bench, emphasizing efforts to control panic, told the Centre, "Ensure trained counselors and community leaders belonging to faiths visit relief camps and prevent panic."
The Chief Justice also asked the Centre to make arrangements to provide adequate provisions for drinking water, food, beds and medicines in shelter homes. "Summer is approaching. There has to be water otherwise it creates a big problem", he add ded.
The lockdown has left several thousand daily wagers without jobs and reduced their means of sustenance. Reports of workers choosing to travel on foot to their villages have emerged from many parts of the country, as public transport has also been shut down followimg the nationwide lockdown.
The Chief Justice observed that press briefings should be conducted for correct information.
Justice L. Nageswara Rao said the Centre should take steps for prevention of misinformation through social media, including Facebook, Twitter and TikTok..
The bench also queried the Centre why criminal action cannot be taken against those spreading fake news on coronavirus.
The Chief Justice specifically asked the Centre to explain the mechanism to control fake news. "Why don't you take action against people if you are so concerned about fake news," the Chief Justice queried the Centre.
The matter has been posted for further hearing next week.