The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court, comprising Justice Anil Killor, has reserved verdict on the PIL challenging the decision of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) to remove 1,408 people from Satranjipura, a containment zone, and putting them in institutional quarantine.
While the NMC defended its move in an affidavit filed in reply to a notice issued by the High Court on May 3, the petitioner’s lawyer argued that the civic body had violated the guidelines of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) by “treating the entire population of Satranjipura as high-risk contacts of coronavirus positive cases from the locality”.
Last week, the NMC had removed people en masse and put them in various institutional quarantine centres in the city. There are 90 COVID-19 cases in the locality, where the first death due to the infection also happened on April 5.
There are two interveners in the petition, who have also challenged the NMC action. The HC had issued notice to state government, Nagpur municipal commissioner, commissioner of police, collector, ICMR and National Centre for Disease Control.
The petitioner stated that the respondent authorities had illegally detained 1,408 people by violating prescribed protocol and guidelines issued by ICMR and the Union Ministry of Health.
The petitioner’s counsel argued citizens can be detained and quarantined for 14 days, only if they are found to be “high risk contacts” and “positive patients”.
“It is necessary to do a ‘clinical assessment by medical officer of NMC’ of suspected cases before terming them as high-risk contacts,” he said.
“The civic administration has illegally detained 1,408 people by randomly selecting them from a particular area without even confirming the same,” he further said, adding, “the detention is violative of Fundamental Rights under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.”
The lawyer for one of the two interveners in the PIL argued according to the central government guidelines, “institutional quarantine facilities need to be on the outskirts and not in densely populated area”. But in this case, the suspected cases are being lodged inside the MLA Hostel, Vanamati, Ravi Bhavan and VNIT Hostel, thereby increasing the risk factor for uninfected people living in the vicinity like Shankar Nagar.
The lawyer for the second intervener argued that the authorities are involved in “forcible and illegal detention of randomly selected persons” and “there is no reasonable basis of such selection of citizens for quarantine facilities”.
It was also argued that the central government has issued another notification on April 28 by which even positive patients of COVID-19 are required to be kept in home quarantine and, hence, such “institutional quarantine of large number of persons is not required”.
The NMC said in its affidavit filed through counsel Sudhir Puranik, “The NMC has categorised the 1,408 people as high-risk contacts by duly following ICMR guidelines. A high-risk contact is a person who lives in the same household as the patient and anyone in close proximity in one metre of the confirmed case without precautions.”
With regard to the other allegation that “high-risk” persons are being put into institutional quarantine inside the city, the NMC said, “As per guidelines, the quarantine facility is to be well-protected and secure and preferably should have approachability to the tertiary hospital facility having critical care and isolation facility. There should be ample space for parking and ease of access for delivery of food, medical and other supplies and should be well-ventilated. The NMC facilities where these people have been kept have all these facilities.”
“These facilities have been properly sealed and there is no question of the infection spreading from there,” the NMC further stated.
It also said it had placed an order for 3,000 rapid antibody test kits and will use them as soon as they arrive. However, they can be used only on symptomatic persons, the civic body stated.
After hearing both sides, Justice Killor reserved his judgment. Meanwhile, the HC has kept the other petition against the NMC for not relaxing curbs in non-containment areas of the city as directed by the state government for hearing on May 8.
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