Coronavirus (COVID-19)| Don’t create panic by fake/misleading news: SC to Media on the plight of migrant workers

“We expect those concerned to appreciate the trepidation of the poor men, women and children and treat them with kindness.”

Supreme Court: The Central government has filed a status report in the Supreme Court on a petition seeking directions to provide basic amenities like food, water and shelter to the migrant workers across the country in the wake to coronavirus lockdown.

Yesterday, the bench of S A Bobde, CJ and L Nageswara Rao, J had sought a status report from the Centre on the measures taken in view of the large-scale migration of labourers from cities to their native villages amid the coronavirus outbreak and the consequent lockdown across the country. The Court is hearing the petition filed by advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava through video conferencing.

The report filed by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta stated that various measures have been taken by the Central Government in dealing with the needs of the lower strata of the society by providing basic amenities viz., food, clean drinking water, medicines, etc. SG submitted that that

SG also mentioned that the exodus of migrant labourers was triggered due to panic created by some fake/misleading news and social media. The labourers who are unemployed due to lock down were apprehensive about their survival. Panic was created by some fake news that the lock down would last for more than three months. The Centre, hence, sought direction to prevent fake and inaccurate reporting whether intended or not, either by electronic print or social medial which will cause panic in the society.

In order to ensure that the migrant labourers are being shifted to nearby shelters/relief camps from place they were found to be walking and basic amenities being provided to them, the Union of India has sought a direction to the State Governments and the Union Territories to implement the directions issued by the Central Government.

After considering the submissions and the status report, the Court said that it was satisfied with the steps taken by the Union of India for preventing the spread of Corona Virus [COVID 19] at this stage, however, it was not possible for it to overlook the menace of fake news either by electronic, print or social media which has caused untold suffering to those who believed and acted on such news. In fact, some have lost their lives in the process.

Asking Media to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated, the Court said,

“We do not intend to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic, but direct the media refer to and publish the official version about the developments.”

A daily bulletin by the Government of India through all media avenues including social media and forums to clear the doubts of people is to be made active within a period of 24 hours.

Gist of the Status Report filed by the Centre:

  • circular issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 29.03.2020 has been implemented by the various State Governments/Union Territories.
  • mass migration has stopped according.
  • All the migrant labourers who were on the road have been shifted to relief camps/shelter homes which are set up at various points in each State/Union Territory.
  • 6,66,291 persons have been provided shelters and 22,88,279 persons have been provided food
  • 21,064 relief camps have been set up by various State Governments/Union Territories where the migrant labourers have been shifted and they are being provided with basic amenities like food, medicines, drinking water, etc.
  • Directions are being complied with by the concerned District Collectors/Magistrates.
  • a daily bulletin by the Government of India through all media avenues including social media and forums to clear the doubts of people to be made active within a period of 24 hours.
  • within 24 hours the Central Government will ensure that trained counsellors and/or community group leaders belonging to all faiths will visit the relief camps/shelter homes and deal with any consternation that the migrants might be going through. This shall be done in all the relief camps/shelter homes wherever they are located in the country.

[Alakh Alok Srivastava v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 345, order dated 31.03.2020]

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