The Bombay High Court on Tuesday made some important suggestions to the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) to facilitate easier access of the citizens during this ongoing phase four of nationwide lockdown enforced to contain the Coronavirus.
Division bench of Justice PB Varale and Justice S Kulkarni at Aurangabad was hearing a writ petition filed by Muzaffaruddin Khan, a 39-year-old businessman against the order passed by Divisional Commissioner, Aurangabad directing closure of all shops except medical shops for five days.
It was the grievance of the petitioner that there was no proper co-ordination between the authorities before issuing the order of closure of shops and such closure of shops for the stretch of period would result in an inconvenience and deprivation of essential commodities to the public at large.
The affidavit in reply filed by the Municipal Corporation states that the competent authorities which are the Commissioner, AMC and DC, Aurangabad were bound to take the decision to close such shops because there was an alarming rise in positive cases of Coronavirus between March 15 and May 9. In order to combat the problem, a meeting was convened and a decision was taken to observe a complete lockdown (closure of shops) for three days in order to break the chain of Coronavirus. But since the growth in the number of cases kept increasing, the complete lockdown was extended by another three days.
Moreover, in order to ensure supply of essential commodities to public at large, AMC's affidavit stated that home delivery of groceries, vegetables, food items in all areas including containment zones has been arranged for.
Importantly, 24-hour call centre helplines have been established to promote access to citizens in need. Also, a 24-hour control room has been established with nodal officers who have been appointed for providing necessary help to citizens. Shops and services related to essential goods have also been allowed to operate from May 20 between 7 am and 1 pm, AMC told the Court.
Petitioner's advocate Muhammad Aseem submitted that the primary greivance of the petitioner has been taken care of, however the authorities may consider extending the time period allotted for such shops to remain open in order to allow shopkeepers and businesses to clean and manage the shops.
SMC's Counsel SG Chapalgaonkar sought some time to consider the suggestion made by the petitioner and told the Court on Tuesday that after due deliberations with merchants, traders and shopkeepers, authorities are willing to extend the time for such shops by an hour. Every half and hour before opening and the half hour before closing would be reserved for cleaning and management of the shops.
Court noted that the grievance raised in the petition no longer survives and appreciated the positive response from AMC's counsel. The bench observed that the Court is not expected to take charge of administration or indulge in monitoring trade activities however "due to peculiar circumstances we are prompted to give these suggestions."
"We may suggest the Corporation to explore the possibility of publishing the WhatsApp numbers of the shopkeepers in the notified/particular areas. This may facilitate the consumers in advance to place the orders for grocery articles or other articles of daily needs. This may facilitate the shopkeepers to keep these orders ready well in advance for delivery on the next date.
We may suggest that the Municipal Corporation may publish the details in respect of 24 hour call centres and helpline numbers periodically i.e. at least on a weekly basis in two newspapers having circulation in regional language and one English daily newspaper.
The Municipal corporation also to publish the details of the 24 hours control rooms and the phone numbers of the appointed nodal officers."
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