In suo moto proceedings on issues relating to the COVID-19 Virus, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir has passed a series of orders to ensure social distancing, so as to break the transmission cycle of the deadly virus.
During the course of hearing, a division bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal took stern view against the persons who are concealing their foreign travel history, despite clear directions from both the centre and the UT admin.
"Judicial notice can be taken of the several complaints being made in the electronic and the print media with regard to persons who are concealing their foreign travel history, even though they are required to disclose their travel history, in order to escape the mandatory quarantine. Some of such persons have been found to be infected and huge public resources have been expended on tracking, not only these persons, but their several contacts during the period upto their detection," the court observed.
Stating that such actions will only aggravate the situation and multiply COVID-19 patients, the bench has directed the authorities of the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir as well as Ladakh to enforce their notifications/instructions/orders regarding all disclosures including the travel history; quarantining and isolation stringently.
"All authorities of the Union Territories shall take strict measures to ensure that all requirements are strictly enforced. Violation of any Government notification or breach thereof should be strictly punished in accordance with law," the bench said.
The court went on to stress upon the importance of minimization of social interaction and ensuring social distancing, given that Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have several places of religious importance and popular tourist destinations, thus attracting a lot of crowd.
On this aspect, the Financial Commissioner of the Health and Medical Education Department of the UT told the court that Sh. Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board had suspended yatra to the Holy Shrine. On similar lines, all religious leaders had also been advised to suspend all religious gatherings.
The court has now asked the state authorities to ensure awareness amongst people living in institutional care, such as Orphanages and Old Age Homes amongst others, and to take all measures to protect the inmates or orphans and the senior citizens.
"We are informed that Committees have been constituted at the administrative level and steps taken for regular observation and monitoring of Old Age Homes, Observation Homes, Nari Niketan, Bal Ashram, Orphanage, Blind schools and other such institutions. The Department of Social Welfare shall continue to ensure that the best possible care is given to all these institutions as well… Additionally, the authorities need to look into the needs of slums and also the homeless people," the court said.
Inter alia, the court had asked the government to ensure the availability of video conferencing facility at all Observation Homes and Juvenile Justice Boards, in a bid to dispense physical presence of the stakeholders.
On a subsequent hearing, the court was informed that the order could not be implemented due to connectivity issues and for want of approval of the financial estimates conveyed to the ICPS.
The court has thus asked the concerned department to review the financial estimate at the earliest, so that provision of video conferencing facility is enforced. Further, it has been recommended that all these Observation Homes and JJBs be moved to a permanent accommodation.
A direction was also issued to the Director General (Prisons) to file a report with regard to the steps taken in the prisons in Jammu and Kashmir, especially with regard to creation of isolation wards and treatment facilities, in case prisoners are suspected to be or get infected.
Lastly, the bench has asked authorities in both the UTs to examine the provisions of the National Disaster Management Act, 2005 and to take appropriate steps provided for therein, as may be advised. The UT of Ladakh has also been asked to examine the necessity of a law, similar to the Jammu and Kashmir Epidemic Disease (COVID-19) Regulations, 2020, enforced in the UT of J&K earlier this month.
The case is now listed for March 30.
Case Title: Court on its Own Motion v. Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir
Case No.: WP(C) PIL No. 5/2020
Quorum: Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal
Appearance: Advocate Monika Kohli Amicus Curiae