Can Have Bhajan Or Namaz, Counsel Migrants: Supreme Court To Centre

By SM.31 Mar, 2020




NEW DELHI: Migrants stopped on their long journey home and sent to shelters amid the coronavirus lockdown should get food, medical aid and counselling from leaders of all religions, the Supreme Court told the centre today.

"You will ensure that all those whose migration you have stopped are taken care of in terms of food, shelter, nourishment and medical aid," Chief Justice SA Bobde told the central government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

The court also talked about calming the fear among migrants about their future after being abruptly left without jobs or homes because of the 21-day lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

"We want to impress upon you that the panic will destroy more lives than the virus. You need counsellors. You can have bhajan, kirtan, namaz or whatever but you have to give strength to the people," said the court, urging the government to rope in leaders of all faiths to counsel migrants in shelters. "Ensure trained counsellors and community leaders of all faiths visit relief camps and prevent panic," it said.

"I am making statement here that within 24 hours we will mobilise trained counselors and religious leaders. We will mobilise religious leaders, maulvis, sadhus to counsel them to stay calm," the Solicitor General told the Supreme Court.

He said there are no migrant workers on roads "as of 11 am today", all have been put up in shelters.

The Supreme Court is hearing a petition seeking directions to provide food and shelter to migrant workers left helpless after a 21-day lockdown was imposed across the country to control the spread of coronavirus.

Risking infection, the migrants started walking towards their home states after all public transport was suspended. Heartbreaking stories have emerged of their sufferings on the long journey; one man even died of heat and hunger. They were forced to crowd at state borders - against social distancing rules critical for keeping the virus at bay -- as they were stopped by policemen from entering.

The centre complained that in its efforts to fight coronavirus, "fake news" was the biggest challenge.

"India has taken preemptive and proactive steps. Preparations stated on January 17. So far, we have been able to contain the spread of the virus much to our satisfaction. We took steps much ahead of what many other countries did," said the Solicitor General, adding that in India the spread of the virus was less than in other countries.

The Chief Justice asked the centre to ensure press briefings so that correct information could go out.

"Take steps for prevention of misinformation through social media too, including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok," said Justice L Nageswara Rao.

The court questioned why criminal action couldn"t be taken against those spreading fake news on COVID-19.

"You told us about fake news and how you will control it. Do you have any powers under any act by which you can punish people for spreading fake news? Why don"t you take action against people if you are so concerned about fake news," asked the Chief Justice.

India has close to 1,200 coronavirus patients and 32 have died.