CRITICISING THE Kerala government for easing Covid-19 restrictions for Bakrid even in areas with high test positivity rate, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said that “to give in to pressure groups so that the citizenry… is laid bare to a nationwide pandemic discloses a sorry state of affairs”.
While the Bench of Justices R F Nariman and B R Gavai directed the state government to “follow the law laid down” in the court’s order in the Kanwar Yatra case, it said it was not quashing the government’s notification as Tuesday was the last day of the three-day relaxation period.
The Bench, however, said that “if as a result of the notification…, any untoward spread in the Covid-19 disease takes place, any member of the public may bring this to the notice of this Court, after which this Court will take necessary action against those who are responsible”.
Last week, the court had asked the Uttar Pradesh government to reconsider even allowing a symbolic physical Kanwar Yatra, underlining that “the health of the citizenry of India and their right to life are paramount” and “all other sentiments, albeit religious, are subservient to this most basic fundamental right”.
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On Tuesday, the Bench directed the Kerala government to “give heed to” the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution, and said that “pressure groups of all kinds, religious or otherwise, cannot in any manner, interfere with this most precious fundamental right of all the citizens of India”.
Responding to an application challenging the easing of curbs, the state, in an affidavit on Monday, told the court that it was done to alleviate the misery of traders who had stocked goods for Bakrid.
The Bench, which perused the affidavit, pointed to the government’s July 17 notification on easing of restrictions, which said “it has been specifically ordered that as far as possible, persons visiting shops and other establishments may belong to those with at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine and follow strict Covid protocols”. “Homilies such as ‘as far as possible’ and assurances from traders without anything more, do not inspire any confidence in the people of India or this Court,” the Bench said.
The court said the state government’s decision to allow relaxations for one day (July 19) even in ‘Category D’areas, where the positivity rate was over 15 per cent, was “extremely alarming” and “wholly uncalled for”.
Referring to a paragraph in the affidavit filed by the Kerala government, the court said it disclosed that the state had given in to traders’ associations, which made a representation that they had stocked up goods for Bakrid.
The Bench said the affidavit “discloses a sorry state of affairs… and does not in any real manner safeguard the Right to Life and Health guaranteed to all the citizens of India under Article 21 of the Constitution of India”.
The order came on an intervention application filed by Delhi-based political analyst P K D Nambiar in the Kanwar Yatra matter, challenging the Kerala government’s decision to ease restrictions. On Monday, the court had asked the state to respond to the application.
In its reply filed on Monday evening, the Kerala government said the Covid-19 curbs had caused a lot of misery and traders, who had stocked goods, were expecting Bakrid sales to alleviate their misery to a certain extent.
Appearing for Nambiar, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh said the affidavit was “shocking”. The document, he said, stated that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said that those who had taken at least one dose of vaccine could visit shops, contrary to the Disaster Management Act.
“Uttar Pradesh is at 0.02% (test positivity rate) and yet they have restrictions. They (Kerala) are at 10%, how can they justify this? … These are populist measures… Somebody should be made accountable. You can’t do something and get away with it. Cases may rise. The states may fudge the testing,” he said.
Objecting to his submission, Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Kerala government, said the petitioner “has said nothing about fudging numbers. To say that without proof, is uncalled for”.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told a review meeting on Tuesday that the existing restrictions would continue for another week. “For the time being, there is no relaxation in curbs. Test positivity has increased to 10.8 per cent. Cases are going up in Kozhikode, Malappuram and Kasaragod districts. Micro-level containment should be effectively implemented at the grassroot level,” he said. The state reported 16,848 new cases on Tuesday. Various district administrations have issued strict norms for Wednesday’s Eid prayers, including restricting entry at mosques to 40 people. – With ENS inputs, Thiruvananthapuram
Moderate to heavy rains predicted in Mumbai, adjoining areas today