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"PIL Doesn't Mean That Which Is Interesting As Gratifying Curiosity": Jharkhand High Court Dismisses PIL Challenging E-Pass Requirement Amid Lockdown

Sparsh Upadhyay
26 May 2021 2:39 PM GMT
PIL Doesnt Mean That Which Is Interesting As Gratifying Curiosity: Jharkhand High Court Dismisses PIL Challenging E-Pass Requirement Amid Lockdown
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In a significant observation, the Jharkhand High Court last week, while dismissing a PIL challenging the requirement of E-Pass during Lockdown, remarked: "Public interest litigation does not mean that which is interesting as gratifying curiosity or a love of information or amusement; but that in which a class of the community have a pecuniary interest, or some interest by which...

In a significant observation, the Jharkhand High Court last week, while dismissing a PIL challenging the requirement of E-Pass during Lockdown, remarked:

"Public interest litigation does not mean that which is interesting as gratifying curiosity or a love of information or amusement; but that in which a class of the community have a pecuniary interest, or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected."

A Bench of Chief Justice Dr Ravi Ranjan and Justice Sujit Narayan Prasad observed that due to acute surge in COVID-19, if in such situation certain restrictions have been imposed by the State of Jharkhand by reviewing the same from time to time, the same cannot be said to be unreasonable and arbitrary.

The matter before the Court

It was the case of the writ petitioner, a social activist that the State of Jharkhand had issued various orders in the form of guideline under the authority given to him by State Disaster Management Authority under Section 18(2) of the Disaster Management Act.

The petitioner averred that under the Government order, any kind of movement by personal vehicle the person shall carry E-pass, valid photo identity card and valid ticket in case of air/rail related travel.

The guideline also mentioned therein that e-pass shall not be required for movement related to the medical purpose or for movement related to last rites with the further provision that all movement into the state by personal vehicle or taxi shall be permitted only on producing e-pass.

All inter-district & intradistrict movement by personal vehicle shall be permitted only on producing e-pass.

It was the contention of the counsel appearing for the petitioner that imposing such conditions by issuing e-pass in order to move was arbitrary due to various reasons such as:

  • Even for the purchase of grocery/milk/vegetable/fruits and quaint essential daily items for his basic survival, if a person opts for his personal vehicle he needs to get an e-pass first;
  • If a farmer or a construction worker is going for his farming/construction-related work he would need even in his close locality an e-pass;
  • There are cases where the whole family member is covid positive and they are getting food/milk/medicine etc., with the help of their relatives who are living at a distant place who used their personal vehicle to help their family member;
  • If the people of the State has been permitted to perform only necessary activities and if for that also they will be compelled to get an e-pass then it is surely unjust; (
  • If for every activity if a person is compelled to disclose the same to the government then it amounts to a violation of the right to privacy;

On the other hand, the Advocate General appearing for the State submitted that the writ petition was nothing but misuse the judicial proceeding because the State Government has exercised such jurisdiction as has been conferred under Section 18(2)(d) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 taking into consideration the immediate surge of COVID-19 and large scale death due to COVID-19 infection in order to break the chain and taking into consideration the paucity of beds in the hospitals of different districts of the State of Jharkhand.

Court's observations

Dismissing the plea, the Court observed that:

"The decision of the State Government that the State Government has put restrictions initially for a week, thereafter, after reviewing the situation it has been extended from time to time taking into consideration the situation and when it has been found that the death of the patients suffering from COVID-19 is accelerating and if in such a situation to put a check in the free movement of the people, certain conditions have been imposed, the same cannot be said to be unreasonable and arbitrary."

Lastly, the Court remarked that the writ petitioner had failed to make out a case showing the writ petition to be in the nature of public interest since at this stage the interest of the people would largely be served by saving their life and if in such a station the State Government has taken a decision for issuance of e-pass the same cannot be said to suffer from infirmity.

Case title - Rajan Kumar Singh v. State of Jharkhand [W.P.(PIL) No.1944 of 2021]

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