The Bombay High Court on Friday issued notice to the State and Centre in a PIL seeking directions to evolve a special mechanism for revealing names of Covid-19 patients for the benefit of the public at large so that one "can stay away from such people" and go to the doctor at the initial stage of contraction of the virus.
A division bench of Justice AA Sayed and Justice MS Karnik heard the PIL filed by 23-year-old Vaishnavi Gholave, a final year law student and 40-year-old Mahesh Gadekar, an agriculturist from Solapur. Justice Sayed questioned the petitioners regarding the right of privacy of such patients whose names are sought to be revealed-
"Authorities declare a particular place or a building as a containment zone after someone tests positive in order to make people aware so that they do not go there. Is that not enough?Why do you want to know the identity of persons who test positive for Covid-19? This involves their right to privacy."
To this, Adv Vinod Sangvikar replied that the right to life takes precedence over the right to privacy.
Appearing on behalf of the Union of India, Adv Aditya Thakkar submitted that names of Covid-19 positive persons cannot be revealed as per ICMR guidelines and that this has been done to avoid stigmatisation of such patients.
Adv Sangvikar argued that ICMR's guidelines extend to only those patients who died of Covid-19 not the active positive cases.
The PIL states-
"It ought to be held, that the act of the Respondents at various levels violates the rights of public at large under Art 21 of the Constitution of India. If the names of the coronavirus infected patients are declared then it will be beneficial for the people at large to stay away from such people and go to a doctor at the initial stage of the disease. These infected people cannot remember the name, address and all other details of the people who had come in contact. The right of confidentiality is no more accepted if the question is of the welfare of the people at large."
Petitioners have also referred to national guidelines issued by ICMR to Ethics Committees reviewing Biomedical & Health Research during April, clause 2.2 of the guideline states-
"Privacy Confidentiality: Information related to COVID-19 infection may be highly sensitive in nature with a lot of scope for stigmatization, discrimination, violence etc. Maintaining confidentiality of research related data and its publication is important to protect the privacy of individuals and avoid any discrimination against them."
Apart from the above, we have not found any express provisioning for confidentiality of the Corona or Covid-19 Patients names, the PIL contends. Also, the petitioners assert that according to the government, India has not reached the stage of community transfer, but we can reach that stage, if the Government fails to declare the name of the corona patients.
Court issued notice to Centre and State seeking their reply to the said PIL and posted the matter for hearing after two weeks.
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