Even as it declined to interfere with the Chandigarh Administration’s decision to relax curfew in the city, the Punjab and Haryana High Court in an order passed on Sunday asked the authorities to solicit opinion of the specialists of infectious and communicable diseases while taking any decision and emphasised that social distancing is ‘sine qua non’ (essential condition) to control the coronavirus.
“The petition is disposed of with an observation that the Administration may lay down the parameters of social distancing at the time of distribution of essential items and also to monitor and regulate the same by taking stringent actions against the violators,” read the order passed by Justices Rajiv Sharma and Rakesh Kumar Jain
Observing that the scope of judicial interference in a policy matter is very limited, the court upheld the administration’s decision to relax curfew and termed it a valid order. The Administration on Friday ordered that people are allowed to walk towards nearest shops and markets within their sectors from 10 am to 6 pm for shopping of essential goods.
“The order …. has been issued in larger public interest. The Chandigarh Administration has weighed all the pros and cons before taking the decision. We will not substitute our wisdom for the wisdom of the Administration during this crisis,” read the order.
The hearing took place through video conferencing on Sunday morning. A Chandigarh-based lawyer, Adityajit Singh Chada, through advocates Bikramjit Singh Patwalia and Kannan Malik on Saturday had challenged the decision to relax the restrictions in Chandigarh.
Senior Advocate Deepinder Singh Patwalia on Sunday before court suggested that home delivery can be permitted and promoted in the northern sectors and the CTU buses can be put to use for southern sectors and colonies. “The CTU buses can be filled with ration and stocks, and then the services of rikshawalas can be used to deliver the things home-wise,” Patwalia argued, adding that the doctors are up in arms against the decision of the Administration.
Patwalia also submitted before the court that the resident doctors had proposed to file a petition before the High Court but they were “coerced” by the administration not to pursue it.
Sources told The Indian Express that the Association of Resident Doctors of PGI on Saturday passed a resolution to approach the High Court against the curfew relaxation after their efforts to convince the PGI administration and UT authorities failed. A mentioning for hearing of the case was also made in the High Court through e-mail but the same was not pursued later.
The District Magistrate Chandigarh on March 23 had ordered a curfew in the Union Territory in the wake of the outbreak of coronavirus. While the public were restrained from leaving their houses, the Chandigarh Administration on Friday passed an order allowing one person from each household to step out of their houses between 10 am and 6 pm to visit their nearest shop or market. The residents, however, have not been allowed to use vehicles. The Administration also had ordered that the shops with essential commodities will remain open from 10 am to 6 pm.
Why did the Chandigarh Administration relax curfew?
The Chandigarh Administration told the court that it tried hard to ensure continuation of supplies of essential items, by using the buses of Chandigarh Transport Undertaking to provide food and vegetables. It also informed the court that senior officers were assigned the task but various problems were faced.
“A huge crowd thronged the buses/trucks loaded with fruits, vegetables and the grocery items. The very purpose of social distancing was being challenged,” the Administration said, adding that it would not have been possible to run the supply chain for long without involving the traditional network of shops and accordingly a decision was taken to provide limited exemption for one person from each household to walk to their nearest shops.
The court was also informed that the decision was taken after taking feedback from the PGIMER director and Director Health Services too. UT Senior Standing Counsel Pankaj Jain assured the court that social distancing would be maintained while distributing essential items and also told the court that “e-vending” is being encouraged as per the norms laid down.
The division bench after the submissions said, “It is thus evident that the order dated 27.03.2020 has been issued as per the guidelines issued by the Union of India and after holding consultations with the Director, PGIMER, Chandigarh; the Director, Health Services, Chandigarh and DGP. The whole exercise has been undertaken to maintain regular supply of essential items to the public at large.”
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