People are violating “with impunity” the COVID-19 guidelines on wearing of face masks at public places and are not adhering to social distancing norms, the Supreme Court said on Thursday while pulling up the authorities for not ensuring strict compliance of these measures to contain coronavirus.
The apex court questioned the authorities over large gatherings including political and social during the pandemic time and said the Centre and states should give suggestions so that appropriate directions can be issued to implement these guidelines and also for ensuring its compliance.
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“You give suggestions on what is needed to be done for implementation of these guidelines on face masks and gatherings. People are violating them with impunity. What should be done you tell us. We will fill up the gaps,” a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan said.
The bench, also comprising Justices R S Reddy and M R Shah, made the remarks while hearing a matter in which the apex court had taken cognisance on the issue of proper treatment of COVID-19 patients and dignified handling of dead bodies in hospitals.
The top court said there are guidelines in this regard but the problem is of lack of will to strictly implement them.
“These guidelines are not implemented strictly,” the bench observed.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and Gujarat government, referred to the affidavit filed by the Central government and said there are deficiencies which needs to be addressed by the states.
“It has been pointed out that guidelines with regard to wearing of masks and keeping social distancing are not being followed in almost all of the states. It is submitted that even though there are stringent regulations including imposing of fine on non-wearing of masks, yet desired results have not been achieved. It has also been submitted that there has been large public gathering including political, religious, ceremonial where the social distancing is given a go-bye and there are no appropriate mechanism to check such social gatherings,” the bench noted in its order.
“The Solicitor General and other counsel appearing for different states have requested time to give appropriate suggestions in the above regard so that appropriate directions may be issued by this court to implement the guidelines and to ensure the compliance. The suggestions may be given by December 7,” the bench said and posted the matter for hearing on December 9.
Mehta referred to another affidavit filed by the Centre on the issue of fire safety measures in hospitals across the country and said appropriate directives have been issued to the states and Union Territories (UTs).
“I must not present a rosy picture that everything is fine. There are deficiencies,” Mehta told the bench.
The bench observed, “You have to find out how many COVID hospitals are without proper fire safety measures”.
The top court had on November 27 taken cognisance of the fire incident in a designated COVID-19 hospital in Gujarat’s Rajkot in which several patients had died and had also raised the issue of lack of proper fire safety measures in hospitals across the country.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing on Thursday, the bench was told by one of the lawyers that there is lack of oxygen supply and hospital beds in Himachal Pradesh to deal with COVID-19.
Mehta said this issue should be brought to the notice of the Union Health Ministry and it would be immediately sorted out administratively.
“Issue notice to the state of Himachal Pradesh to file a status report regarding treatment of COVID patients in different hospitals, infrastructure and facilities available therein,” the bench said.
The issue of regulation of cost for COVID-19 treatment in private hospitals in Assam was also brought to the notice of the apex court.
“These are issues for the state to take action. We under Article 32 cannot regulate hospital charges. It is for the states to look into this,” the bench said.
The lawyer, who raised the issue of money charged by some private hospitals in Assam for treatment of COVID-19, said assembly election is slated in the state next year and the authority should issue some direction regarding rallies by political parties so that there is no large gathering.
“We have asked all stake holders to give their suggestions on gatherings,” the bench said.
The bench asked the counsel appearing for Assam to take instructions on the issue raised before it regarding exorbitant money being charged by private hospitals for treatment of COVID-19 and also on election rallies.
Earlier, the apex court had expressed concern over the spurt in number of COVID-19 cases across the country.