Covid-19 Pandemic In India And The Remedial/Protective Steps Taken By Judiciary
K.V. Bhanu Prasad, Advocate
Bar Association of High Court for Telangana and Enrolled Telangana State Bar Council
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Date : 03/06/2022
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Covid-19 Pandemic In India And The Remedial/Protective Steps Taken By JudiciaryThis article is relating to various steps taken by judiciary when corona virus has spread all over the world and many deaths have taken place in India due to lack of facilities created by Government. The world has witnessed serious blow in all walks of life due to Covid-19 pandemic. This article is mainly on the role played by the Hon'ble Supreme Court and various High Courts during lockdown imposed by Government of India to protect the rights of the citizens. We have witnessed 1st, 2nd and 3rd waves of corona virus. When the 1st wave was prevalent the Government of India declared lockdown on 23.03.2020 and relaxed for a shorter duration. In that context the primary goal of the Judiciary was to ensure continuity of essential judicial services while safeguarding the health of those responsible for providing the services. Courts in India took up their commitment to continue to render justice by establishing facilities like online hearing. E- hearing and e-payment. The use of audio and video conferencing technology was allowed for the first time, as the physical hearing of the cases was impossible. Though, e-filing and audio and video conferencing technology is almost new to the Judiciary, but, still Indian courts have raised to the occasion and continued to offer essential judicial services to the public. Therefore, inspite of declaration of lockdown courts have continued to work and the Judges have taken pains to convert their respective houses as court halls, read the bundles and heard the arguments through video conferencing and passed appropriate orders. When the Government of India declared lockdown on 23-03-2020 by invoking the powers under Disaster Management Act, the Hon'ble Supreme Court took suo-moto cognizance and directed the extension of limitation with effect from 15-03-2020. As, the Covid-19 situation was slightly improved in the country on 08-03-2021 the Hon'ble Supreme court decided to lift the extension with effect from 14-03-2021. In the wake of second wave and having noticed the alarming situation the order of extension was revived on 27-04-2021 and period of limitation was also extended to Arbitration and Conciliation Act, Commercial Courts Act and Negotiable Instruments Act and thereafter on 25-09-2021 recalled its order with effect from 02-10-2021. However, again extended till 28-02-2022. Therefore, from time to time Hon'ble Supreme Court realized that the rights and interests of the litigant public will be at stake due to lockdown and that the rights of the citizens should be protected. Therefore, Hon'ble Supreme Court invoking its extraordinary powers extended the period of limitation. Else, many cases all over India would have become time barred for presenting or for filing. This way the Hon'ble Supreme Court has come to the rescue of the citizens of India. The Government of India declared nation wide lockdown invoking the powers available under Disaster Management Act, 2005. This piece of legislation was made to deal with the disasters like earthquakes or cyclones. However, as the Covid-19 pandemic is also a serious disaster the Government of India invoked its powers available under the Act and declared lockdown. But, some states have invoked the powers of Epidemic Diseases Act which also grants sweeping powers to the state Government. Using this power state Governments have declared containment zones and entire districts were sealed and movement from one place to another prohibited in order to put in place various surveillance measures. The most serious impact of the nation wide lockdown was "migrant crisis" with the forced closure of all shops business, transport etc. The large number of working class people who have migrated to metropolitan cities could not go back to their places. Then in a public interest litigation, the supreme court did not grant any positive relief to the petitioners on the basis of a statement made by the Solicitor General of India that there were no migrants on the road. However, due to widespread outrage all over India number of state High Courts have stepped-in because of the dire situation and continued to have its supervisory jurisdiction to check the steps taken by the respective Governments to protect the interests and fundamental rights of the citizens. The various issues like supply of oxygen providing transport to the migrants, health facilities, hospitalization etc., were the concerns before the respective High Courts. However, as the Hon'ble Supreme Court itself took up the all the issues in April-2021, the respective High Courts stopped dealing with these issues and Hon'ble Supreme Court passed appropriate orders. So far as Telangana High Court is concerned having noticed that the State Government is very slow in RT-PCR tests to diagnose Covid-19 among the citizens of Telangana, High Court asked the Government to give its report within 48 hours to tell the court what are the steps taken to tackle further spread of virus in the State. Further, in a Public interest litigation High Court of Telangana directed the Government to explain its plan of action to check and control the second wave of corona virus. During the hearing court expressed dissatisfaction that the RT-PCR tests conducted by the Government were less than 10 % of the total diagnostic tests and this made the Government to realize its responsibility to take suitable steps to control the spreading corona virus. That apart, High Court of Telangana from time to time issued Standard Operating Procedure for conduct of cases in all courts in Telangana. Unfortunately, the State and the Executive did not discharge their duties properly to control the spread of Covid-19 which resulted in many deaths due to lack of oxygen, vaccination and facilities like beds and ventilators in hospitals. When there are so many deaths and when the central government is not responding to suitably compensate the victims having invoked the provisions of Disaster Management Act a public interest litigation was filed. Under the Disaster Management Act central/state governments to fulfill their obligations to take care of victims of the calamity and their family members. And also a writ was filed seeking a direction to the Governments to issue any official document stating the cause of the death to the family members of the deceased who died due to Covid-19. The main relief was to grant compensation to the tune of Rs.4,00,000/- or notified ex-gratia to the bereaved families who died due to Covid-19. The writ petitions were so strongly opposed by the Central Government stating that the expression shall used in Sec. 12 will have to be read as may and that parliament has used the word "Shall" twice. In this way Government of India opposed the writ and tried to escape from its responsibilities. Therefore, the Governments, which came into power with so many promises to the citizens completely failed in coming to the rescue of citizens in providing basic necessities during widespread of Corona virus. On the other hand when the writ petitions are filed, the Executive have opposed the writs and sought for dismissal of the writ petitions and thereby created pressure on the courts. However, after an elaborate argument Hon'ble Supreme Court disposed off the writ petitions with certain directions directing the National disaster management authority to recommend guidelines for ex-gratia assistance on account of loss of life to the family members of the persons who died due to Covid-19 as mandated under Sec. 12 of Disaster Management Act, 2005. Secondly, a direction was given stating that the appropriate authority is directed to issue death certificates stating exact cause of death. However, the Governments did not follow these directions and in the death certificates except recording the date of death, cause of death was not mentioned. This happened to me also when my mother passed away on 02.05.2021. When, I brought to the authorities about the direction of Supreme Court, they replied they have no instructions from the Government which made me to write this article how the courts are coming to the aid of citizens when repeatedly the State and Executive are not coming to the rescue to citizens. Therefore, it is my considered view judiciary never failed and always kept its majesty and judges have discharged their responsibilities and duties for the oath taken by them. But, unfortunately the politicians who also come to power with the same oath, the moment they come into power they are forgetting the oath taken by them and majority of them are working for their self interest.
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