HC to hear PIL today

HC to hear PIL today

Saurabh Malik

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 28

The Punjab and Haryana High Court today gave the Chandigarh Administration and the District Magistrate about 16 hours to respond to a petition filed in public interest questioning the decision to open shops across the city for eight hours from 10 am. Among other things, the petitioner contended the order allowed 1.5 lakh people to step out on the pretext of procuring essential commodities, facilitating the spread of Covid-19.

Taking up the petition through video-conferencing this afternoon, the Bench of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain directed UT Senior Standing Counsel Pankaj Jain to file a reply to the contentions raised in the PIL by 9.30 am on March 29 — half an hour before the scheduled time of hearing.

The direction came after Jain, available on video-conferencing, accepted on behalf of the respondents the notice of motion issued by the Bench. This is the first time in recallable past that the Bench will convene on a Sunday to hear a matter on a digital platform.

The High Court is currently working in a restricted mode in view of the Covid threat. It had on March 24 declared that the hearing of “extremely urgent cases” would be carried out through video-conferencing or video-calling facility.

As the petition filed by Adityajit Singh Chadha through Bikramjit S Patwalia and Kannan Malik came up for preliminary hearing, senior advocate DS Patwalia told the Bench that the impugned order was regressive in nature.

The other points underscored in the petition were also brought to the Bench’s notice.

It was submitted that one person from each household was allowed to move out between 10 am and 6 pm daily to visit shops and supermarkets in accordance with the impugned order. There were approximately 1.5 lakh residential households in Chandigarh as on 2011. Going by the calculation, at least 1.5 lakh people residing in Chandigarh would be allowed to step out on the pretext of obtaining essential commodities and “would only be facilitating further the spread of deadly Corona virus”.

Patwalia added the entire purpose of enforcing curfew vide order dated March 23 was rendered redundant by the passing of the impugned order. “The scenario as can be seen across the globe is that social distancing is the only solution and the only hope in controlling the spread of the deadly Corona virus”.

Besides this, the impugned order was in direct violation of, and in conflict with, the Prime Minister’s instructions, wherein he emphasised on the importance of social distancing. “It is submitted that the impugned order is in complete violation of the mandate and the curfew as enforced by the Prime Minister and would lead to a situation where the virus would uncontrollably spread.”

It was added that the healthcare infrastructure was already overburdened with limited ventilators, medical staff and facilities. The spread of the virus by the virtue of the impugned order would have disastrous consequences.

In any case Chandigarh had already streamlined the system of supplying essential commodities to the residents. A WhatsApp message on “Retrograde Step by Chandigarh Administration” by the “medical fraternity and the Faculty Association of PGIMER” was also referred to.

The respondents, on the other hand, submitted that distribution was a major issue in the Southern Sectors. People there were not getting groceries and the step would help in the giving-out process. The Bench was also told that they had a directive from the Central government and the PGI director’s consent had already been taken.

The Bench, on the other hand, questioned how could supply be used as an excuse to open shops as it was their problem? Otherwise also, the issue was of distribution and not supply. The Bench also called for the directive from the Central Government and the PGI director’s consent so that the same could be examined.

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