The Manipur High Court on Thursday directed the State Government to constitute a "Committee of Experts" that may advise the government as to the course of action that may be adopted to prevent the spread of Covid-19, after holding regular deliberations with all the stakeholders.
A division bench comprised by Justice Lanusungkum Jamir and Justice Kh. Nobin Singh has ordered that the Committee should be constituted within a week, "which shall collect all the relevant data, discuss with the stakeholders including CSOs, farmers, persons who are unable to earn anything because of the lockdown etc., analyze the detailed aspects and keep on submitting reports to the State Government from time to time so that the same can be placed before the High Level Consultative Committee for consideration and to take appropriate decisions accordingly."
The direction was passed in a PIL, highlighting the plight of migrants/returnees due to inaction on part of the State Government in establishing adequate number of quarantine centers, setting up adequate testing facilities and providing basic amenities at the existing quarantine centers.
While disposing of the PIL, the bench iterated that in order to tackle the Covid crisis, the Government needs to make two plans— one, short term plan and two, long term plan.
For the short term plan it suggested:
"the Government ought to constitute a committee consisting of experts in the relevant fields which will look into the matter on day to day basis and submit its report/ recommendation to the Government for its consideration and for taking appropriate and immediate decision as regards the future course of action."
As for the long term plan the court said,
"The government ought to constitute many committees of experts in respect of different problems relating to various Departments viz. Finance, Education, Health, Home, Agriculture, Horticulture, Industries etc. which will collect data, discus with the stakeholders including CSOs and assess the impact of COVID-19 crisis taking into account the actions already taken by the State Government under short term plan."
Further, recognizing the plight of those lodged in the quarantine centers, the court observed,
"the State Government must not forget that as long as he/ she is in a quarantine centre, he/she is entitled to basic needs for survival for the reason that he/she is in the custody of the State Government temporarily"
Sharing of information
The Court observed that even though the State Government had been trying its "best level" to contain the pandemic, there was no information regarding the same in the public domain.
Thus, highlighting the significance of "sharing of information" in a democratic country the bench directed,
"The State Government shall share all the information, without any discrimination except those which are exempted under the provisions of Section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005, with the general public relating to any action taken by it towards combating COVID-19 crisis including the one relating to spending public money, infrastructure, manpower, facilities etc. in the quarantine centres and in particular, the institutional quarantine centres for combating COVID-19 crisis."
The Court observed that the government ought to share any kind information about its financial capacity and various actions being taken by it from to time and make the public aware of it so that it becomes easier for them to extend co-operation.
"Public money is nothing but tax payer's money and the State Government, before spending it, needs to inform the public the amount intended or earmarked to be spent; the amount already spent and the amount yet to be spent, because the standard of facilities to be provided in the quarantine centre will depend upon it.
To do anything by the State Government towards spending public money, there has to be always a norm either in the form of Act, rules and regulation or guidelines, in the absence of which anything done by it will lead to a problem anytime and anywhere. The norm is to be made first by the State Government and the action is to be taken by it in accordance with the said norm only," the bench added.
It has also ordered that the government shall frame exhaustive rules and regulations to regulate its functioning towards combating the crisis or modify suitably the existing SOP, depending upon the change of circumstances touching on all aspects of the matter and keeping in mind the shortcomings, difficulties, drawbacks, complaints from the public etc., to meet any kind of eventuality.
Further, the bench clarified that if the State Government is in short of money, it can make a request to the Government of India for its help and if such request is made by all the State Governments, the Government of India can generate its income either by enhancing the rate of existing taxes or by introducing a new tax towards combating COVID-19 crisis.
Case Title: J. Hillson Angam v. State of Manipur & Ors.
Case No.: PIL No. 16/2020
Quorum: Justice Lanusungkum Jamir and Justice Kh. Nobin Singh
Appearance: Advocate M. Rakesh (for Petitioner); Advocate General N. Kumarjit (for State)
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