Original image: PTI
The Allahabad High Court took matters in its own hands after the state government failed to take concrete steps in order to alleviate the problems being faced by the state’s population in the face of a massive health crisis. The division bench of Justice Ajit Kumar and Siddhartha Varma have directed that five cities including Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur Nagar and Gorakhpur go under partial lockdown as per its specific directions, while coming down heavily on the state government for the inadequate health infrastructure and holding of Panchayat elections.
The state government, however, issued a statement that the government has taken several strict steps. “Along with saving lives, the livelihood of the poor has to be saved. Therefore, there cannot be a complete lockdown in the cities,” the government said.
The court observed that the recent surge in cases has virtually incapacitated all medical infrastructure. During the last hearing, on April 13, the court had directed the government to consider restricting public movement to break the chain of infections. However, the government did not come back with any concrete plans. The court observed that even though there may be limitations in creating infrastructure but until the efforts get translated into action, “much water would have flown under the bridge to the utter dismay of a large population of have nots”.
The court said that in a democracy there are legitimate expectations from the government to adopt measures to meet public health issues. It observed, “In any civilised society if public health system is not able to meet the challenges and people die for want of proper medication, it means there has been no proper development. Health and education go side-byside. Those in the helm of affairs of governance are to be blamed for the present chaotic health problems and more so when there is a democracy which means a government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
The government approximately rounded up the figures of number of hospital beds in government hospitals in proportion to the population and found that medical infrastructure can cater to the needs of less than 0.5% of the population of Prayagraj. “If people die of pandemic in a large number due to paucity of sufficient medical aid it would be the governments to blame which failed to counter the pandemic even after one long year of experience and learning. One would only laugh at us that we have enough to spend on elections and very little to spend on public health,” the court stated.
The court observed that the testing system was not being able to meet the requirement of the population as reports are not being given within 72 hours and only VVIPs are getting their test results in 6-12 hours. The court was also informed that the health system was being managed with only 1/3rd of its manpower as the rest were quarantined for having tested positive.
The court pointed towards the shortage of medical supplies and health infrastructure in the state and said, “It is a shame that while the Government knew of the magnitude of the second wave it never planned things in advance”. The court called the night curfew and weekend curfew to be a complete eyewash. The court warned against a situation where if the health care workers fall ill, people will lose their lives and “all pomp and show of development would be of no avail”.
The court also expressed its displeasure over the holding of Panchayat elections and forcing teachers and other government staff to perform duties exposing themselves to the pandemic. Further, no social distancing was maintained during polling, and during the election rallies, masks were not worn by people. The court thus directed that action be taken against the organisers under the Uttar Pradesh Public Health Epidemic Diseases Act, 2020.
The court stated that if the government has its own political compulsions in not checking public movements during this pandemic, the court cannot remain a passive spectator and it cannot shrink away from its constitutional duty. The court thus passed the following orders with respect to Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur Nagar and Gorakhpur:
1. All establishments be it government or private, except financial institutions and financial departments, medical and health services, industrial and scientific establishments, essential services including municipal functions, and public transport, shall remain closed till 26th April, 2021. The judiciary will however, function on its own discretion;
2. All shopping complexes and malls shall remain closed till 26th April, 2021;
3. All grocery shops and other commercial shops excluding medical shops, with more than three workers shall remain closed till 26th April, 2021;
4. All hotels, restaurants and even the small eating points on thelas etc. shall remain closed till 26th April, 2021;
5. All institutions like educational institutions and other institutions relating to other disciplines and activities be it government, semi-government or private shall remain closed including for their teachers and instructors and other staff till 26th April, 2021 (this direction is for the whole of Uttar Pradesh);
6. No social functions and gatherings including marriage functions shall be permitted till 26th April, 2021. However, in case of already fixed marriages a necessary further permission would have to be taken from the District Magistrate and guests to be limited to 25 persons
7. All religious activities in public of any kind is directed to remain suspended and all religious places to remain closed till April 26
8. All hawkers including fruits and vegetable vendors, milk vendors and bread vendors, shall go off the road by 11 AM every day till 26th April, 2021
9. Containment zones shall be notified every day in two leading Hindi and English newspapers
10. All public movements on roads would remain restricted completely, subject to above directions.
11. In addition to the above directions, we direct the State Government to go robust for implementing the current vaccination programme
The court directed that these directions be implemented forthwith from the night of April 19 until April 26. The court stated that these directions are not akin to a complete lockdown and directed the government to consider imposing the same for at least two weeks as that would give a respite to health care workers. However, now that the state government has clearly stated that it cannot implement the orders issued by the court, how the court responds remains to be seen.
The complete order may be read here: