On Monday, the Centre told the Supreme Court that the exodus of migrant workers from the cities to their villages should be stopped to ensure that the crowding doesn't aggravate the further spread of the deadly COVID-19.
The 21-day nationwide lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week pushed tens of thousands of migrant workers into looming uncertainty. Panic ensued as many daily wagers, who lost their livelihoods, made their way to their hometowns. With the unavailability of public transports, the workers started walking hundreds of kilometres across state borders, giving rise to fears of the novel virus spreading to rural India.
In the wake of this prospective peril, solicitor general Tushar Mehta put forward the Centre’s stand during a hearing on a petition filed by two lawyers, asking the court to issue directions to the central and state governments to address the threat arising from the mass migration following the three-week national lockdown imposed on March 25.
A message should not go out that the government is facilitating the migration, Mehta said. “Migration has to be stopped,”, he said.
This petition was filed by two lawyers-- advocates Rashmi Bansal and Anuj Gupta-- who cited the possibility that many migrant workers may have been infected by the coronavirus and might have become carriers of the disease. With no social distancing during the mass migration, the workers carry the risk of infecting others and spreading the virus to villages. The workers shouldn’t be allowed to travel without being sanitized/ disinfected, the lawyers said.
After hearing the matter through video-conferencing, the bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde, said that it did not want to complicate the matter when the government was already dealing with it.
“I think government is taking certain measures. We do not want to complicate things by issuing orders on things the government is already doing”, the CJI said.
The petitioners also said that the migrant workers should be counselled so that they didn’t panic and run away.
“This fear and panic is a bigger problem than this virus”, CJI Bobde remarked.
The court did not pass any order but allowed the central government to file a status report on the issue. The matter will be heard again on Tuesday.