The Supreme Court on Tuesday passed detailed directions to the government on immediate steps that need to be taken by them to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus while also dealing with the immediate problem of the mass-migration of daily wage workers from cities, back to their villages amidst the nation-wide lockdown.
The Centre, through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, filed a status report before the Supreme Court detailing the steps that had been taken by the government so far. Mehta told Supreme Court that the first information of anyone being infected in India came on January 5.
India had taken proactive steps to deal with the virus since before that. “We began thermal screening even before the first case came to light” the Solicitor General told Supreme Court. “Any person who was found to be showing any symptoms was immediately sent to quarantine,” he said.
Mehta also told the top court that the government had monitored 3 lakh 48 thousand persons during a 28-day isolation period. “When the virus was first detected, we had one testing laboratory in Pune. From there, we have come to 118 fully-functioning laboratories all over the country with a capacity of 15000 patients every day,” Tushar Mehta said.
The Solicitor General also apprised the Supreme Court on the other steps being taken by the government to spread awareness about the COVID-19 virus. He told the bench that a special unit was being set up by the government to tackle immediate concerns. Health experts and senior doctors will be a part of this special panel and they will address the concerns and questions of the citizens through daily news briefings, he added.
In addition to this, all states have been asked to inform the Centre on how many hospital beds can be reserved exclusively for coronavirus patients and state governments have also been asked to set up exclusive coronavirus hospitals, Mehta said.
Chief Justice of India SA Bobde also told the Centre that something had to be done to prevent the spread of misinformation through the media. CJI Bobde asked the government why criminal action was not being taken against those spreading fake news on the COVID-19 virus. “Are there any provisions under which the government can take action and punish people spreading fake news on the crisis?” CJI asked the Solicitor General.
Speaking about the “reverse-migration”, Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court that earlier over 4 crore people had migrated to cities to find work and they were all now migrating back to their villages due to the corona scare and the lockdown that has been imposed.
“The government is doing all that it can to save the rural population from the pandemic. “We have sent an advisory to all States to put a complete ban on any interstate travel. I am told that there are no more migrants on the roads. Anyone being found is being taken to the nearest shelters. 6 lakh 63 thousand people have been provided shelter so far and over 22 lakh are being provided food on a daily basis”. CJI said that the Supreme Court will take on-record the submission made by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that there are no more migrants on the road anymore.
The Supreme Court passed detailed directions to the government on immediate steps that need to be taken. An expert committee is to be set up within 24 hours to answer the queries and concerns of the citizens. This committee will hold regular press briefings and answer citizen questions. A panel is also to be set up by the government to deal with the issue of the spread of fake news on social media websites and through instant messaging platforms.
Along with this, a portal also has to be set up by the government within 24 hours to answer common questions on the COVID-19 virus. It is also the responsibility of the government to take care of the migrant workers in shelter homes. Government ought to provide them with food, shelter, nourishment and medical aid for all the migrant workers.
The Solicitor General told the Supreme Court that the government had enough supplies in the shelters for one year. There was also a plan in place by the government to mobilise religious leaders, maulvis and sadhus to counsel the people in these shelters and help them remain calm.
The CJI asked the government to entrust the duty of managing these shelters to volunteers instead of police personnel. “There should be no use of force or intimidation,” CJI said. “Panic will take more lives than the virus itself”. CJI also asked for the expert committee to be set up within 24 hours and for regular press briefings to be held. Supreme Court asked the Centre to set up a panel to deal with fake news.