The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday directed the state government to ensure that strict action is taken against political figures and elected representatives who cause violations of social distancing norms.
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Nataraj Rangaswamy while passing interim directions on a petition seeking stricter enforcement of the National Directive for Covid Management issued by the Central government, said "State must ensure that strict action is taken against every one who is violating the directions of authorities. Especially against political figures and elected representatives. If action is not taken it will send a wrong signal."
The bench also directed the government to in a week's time set up a grievance redressal mechanism where citizens can lodge complaints about violation of norms if any, either through email, SMS or whatsapp facility. The bench has said "Apart from number 100 (police control room), we direct the state to create a grievance redressal mechanism to enable citizens to lodge complaints by various methods, emails, SMS whatsapp etc. Even the facility of uploading photographs may be allowed. The state must ensure the complaints reach all the authorities who are under obligation to take prompt action." It has also asked the government to give wide publicity to the same.
State government is also directed to ensure that criminal law is set in motion in case of violations found under section 51 and 54 of the Disaster Management (DM) Act and section 188 of India Penal Code. Additional Advocate General Dhyan Chinnappa had told the court that the government has authorised the Station House Officers to lodge complaints. The bench added that "Even if SHO is authoritized by the state other district authorities under the DM Act are not absolved of setting law in motion. In the event, offences are noticed."
The bench gave the directions while hearing a petition filed by Letzkit Foundation. Advocate Puttige R Ramesh, appearing for the petitioner, had argued that since June 8, when the places are thrown open there is violation of social distancing norms and people are moving around without wearing face masks.
The bench has also directed the state to take necessary steps to authorize district officers under the DM Act who can take penal action of collecting spot fines in different parts of the state, within one week. It said "Only if a large number of officers are authorized to collect fines can norms be implemented effectively." As per government orders in Municipal Corporation limits, Rs 200 fine can be levied on people not wearing face masks and Rs 100 in rural areas of the state.
The court pressed for stricter implementation of guidelines issued by the Central and State government and the Standard Operating Procedures issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on June 4, allowing phased wise unlocking from June 8, in areas outside the containment zones.
It said "It will not be in any dispute that stringent measures need to be taken by all the authorities. During the last few days the cases in the city have started multiplying very fast. Complete lockdown in four areas in Bengaluru for 14 days has been announced. Considering the manner in which the pandemic is spreading in some districts of the state, very strict implementation of various directions is called for in the state."
It also held that the four SOP's issued by the Central government are part of the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on May 30 under the Disaster Management (DM) Act. The SOP's issued for opening of Malls, Hotels/restaurants and places of worship by the State government, under section 24 of the DM Act they were legally enforceable.
The court has directed the registry to list the matter for further hearing on July 13, for considering compliance reports by the state and necessary further interim order