New Delhi: The Gujarat High Court Monday said the poor are “not afraid” of Covid-19, but “are afraid that they would die due to starvation”.
The court said this while hearing a suo motu petition titled ‘Precautionary measures in the wake of the pandemic of Coronavirus (Covid-19)’, which was initiated by it on 13 March.
A bench comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Ilesh J. Vora observed: “The situation seems to be going out of control. Although the state government is doing its best to combat the situation, yet we find that something is wrong somewhere.
“It appears that there is no proper coordination amongst various departments of the state government. What is most essential as of now is a more humane approach or touch,” the court said.
Come up with ‘concrete plans’ to help migrants
The court reminded the state government “they are at present dealing with the most downtrodden, under privileged and weaker sections of the society”.
“They are all afraid. They are not afraid of Covid-19, but they are afraid that they would die due to starvation. In such circumstances, it becomes the paramount duty of the state government to assure and repose confidence in the downtrodden class of people that they will be taken care of in the best possible manner.”
The court then directed Advocate General Kamal Trivedy and government pleader Manisha Lavkumar Shah to discuss the issues with the “highest authorities of the state government” and come up with “concrete plans” to alleviate the difficulties being faced by the migrant labourers and daily wage earners.
The court scheduled the hearing of the matter on 14 May and ended its order with words of advice: “We would like to convey a message to the people at large that do not lose heart. Everything that has a beginning has an end. Novel Covid-19 is not immortal. We all need to stand united and fight. People with resources should stand besides the frail, aged, needy and poor. Trust in the Almighty.”
‘Disturbing, painful, heartbreaking’ news reports
On Monday, the bench took note of some “very disturbing, painful and heartbreaking” newspaper articles.
According to the order, one of the reports, published in The Indian Express, said that migrant workers had to wait for 19 hours in Gujarat to board a train to Uttar Pradesh.
In response, the bench said the state authorities should smoothen the process to ensure that workers don’t have to wait for hours to board a train or bus.
Another report, published in Ahmedabad Mirror with a headline: ‘Give us food or kill us now’, claimed that more than 200 daily wagers and their family members were living near a bridge in Ahmedabad and that they haven’t eaten anything for 4 days.
The court, therefore, ordered the authorities to make arrangements for distribution of food packets across the state.
The third report said Gujarat Director General of Police Shivananad Jha has asked his force to stop any migrant workers seen walking home and take them to shelter homes.
Taking note of this, the court demanded to know how many shelter homes are functional across Gujarat, and directed that shelters homes should provide them with food and water.
“Everyday hundreds of migrant workers with small children are to be seen in different parts of the state, more particularly on the highways. Their condition is pathetic. As on date, they are living in the most inhumane and horrendous conditions,” it observed.
The court also took note of another news report, which claimed that due to the lockdown, people with ailments other than Covid-19 are not able to avail necessary medical services. It directed the government to take necessary arrangements to ensure that this does not happen.