Hearing two petitions seeking relief for thousands of migrant workers who are forced to leave for hometown amid the lockdown, Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde on Monday said the fear and panic over the coronavirus pandemic is bigger than the virus itself.
“We don’t want to deal with the things government is already handling,” the Chief Justice said. “We were noticing that your petition had prayers, some of which have already been taken care of by the government,” he told one of the petitioners.
The number of people infected with coronavirus in India has increased to 1,071, including 31 deaths.
The top court has sought a status report from the Centre by Tuesday on the measures taken in view of the large-scale migration of labourers from cities to their villages amid the coronavirus outbreak and the consequent lockdown across the country.
A bench of Chief Justice Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao, which took up two separate petitions through video-conferencing, said before passing any direction, it would like to wait for the status report from the Centre.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the government, said the migration of labourers needs to be stopped to prevent the spread of the virus and that the Centre, as well as the states concerned, has taken the necessary steps to deal with it.
The Supreme Court will hear the case again on Tuesday.
Since the nationwide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last Tuesday, thousands of migrant workers in cities have been desperately trying to return to their hometowns and villages after they were left without jobs, shelter or money. Most of them have been covering a journey of hundreds of kilometres on foot, as all transport services are shut. Over the weekend, special buses were arranged from Delhi to take them to their homes in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The government on Sunday asked states to ensure that the lockdown is followed and to help curb the exodus of migrant workers from cities.