Amidst forced virtual hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Madras High Court cited a brief note expressing affirmation and benefits of conducting court hearings via video conferencing.
While hearing the writ petition filed by two Korean nationals seeking release from allegedly congested detention camps in Tamil Nadu, Justice S. Vaidyanathan, who took stock of the actual conditions in the camp via Whatsapp video calling remarked,
"there are advantages in hearing cases through Whatsapp Video Call, and the fact remains that, it is less time-consuming, and it will be helpful to analyze the exact scenario of each case, so as to arrive at a definite conclusion, as was done in the case on hand."
The bench thus suggested that the system of video calling should be continued in all such cases that require on-site inspection.
"The system of viewing disputed sites through "Whatsapp Video Call or any other Application through Video mode" can be implemented in cases pertaining to encroachments on roads, water bodies, poramboke lands, Tanks, illegal constructions, OSR, Parks, etc. to ensure that, the Officials/Authorities discharge their work without any extraneous consideration," the court held.
In the present case, the concerned authorities showed maximum areas of the Special Camp to the court. After watching the same the bench said,
"this Court is able to visualize that, the Special Camp is maintained neatly and there are no stains in the Toilets."
The Petitioners had sought permission to be sent to their residences in Kancheepuram District until the pandemic threat subsides. They had emailed certain photographs of the camp to the court, depicting the debilitated conditions of the inmates and no scope for social distancing norms.
However, after visualizing the actual condition of the camp via video calling, the bench remarked,
"When sufficient space is available in the Special Camp in Tiruchirapalli District to accommodate 80 persons and that, only 73 inmates are staying there, this Court is of the view that, photographs furnished by the Petitioners to the effect that, more number of persons are detained in a single room without any sign of social distancing, have been taken by the Petitioners only for the purpose of this case. By doing so, Petitioners are inviting diseases and none can be blamed for their act. The cluster in the room is the act of the inmates and not on account of the Respondents."
The court was also of the opinion that shifting the Petitioners from one place to another in the present scenario will only open floodgates of litigation and may even ignite the spread of the corona virus.
"It is pertinent to note that, none detained in the Special Camp in Tiruchirapalli District is infected with COVID-19. If the Petitioners are released and sent out to live in the address mentioned in Kancheepuram District, and after a few days, assuming that, they are tested positive for COVID-19 on account of shifting them, then, the entire area in which they reside will be sealed, and chances of spreading the virus to other people residing in Kancheepuram District, will be high. Instead of eradicating the pandemic, the Court will directly be responsible for spreading the virus to innocent persons," the court said.
"when there are other persons quarantined with the Petitioners in the Special Camp in Tiruchirapalli District, a different yardstick cannot be applied to the Petitioners alone. This will not only set an unfair precedent, but will also open the pandora's box, paving way to other persons detained in the Special Camp in Tiruchirapalli District to approach this Court for similar orders."
In this backdrop, the petitions were dismissed.
Notably, the Petitioners have been kept in custody for not remitting GST collections to the government. The total liability in this case has been assessed at around Rs. 40 crore.
Case Title: Choe Jae Won v. Govt. of Tamil Nadu & Ors.
Case No.: WP No. 7435/2020
Quorum: Justice S. Vaidyanathan
Appearance: Advocate C. Arun Kumar (for Petitioners); Additional Advocate General SR Rajagopal assisted by Government Pleader V. Jayaprakash Narayan and Special Public Prosecutor NP Kumar
Click Here To Download Judgment