There are no migrant workers on roads “as of 11 am today”, the central government told the Supreme Court on a petition asking for relief for thousands desperate to reach home after being left without jobs or shelter because of the coronavirus lockdown.
“The Home Secretary is saying that as of 11 am this morning, nobody is on the road. They have been taken to the nearest available shelter,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court.
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.
Chief Justice of India SA Bobde has asked the government to set up an expert committee within 24 hours.
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 over 1,200 coronavirus patients and 32 have died.