Covid-19 doesn’t differentiate between rich, poor: Supreme Court
The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) does not differentiate between the rich and the poor, asserted the Supreme Court on Tuesday as it rued that arguments were being made about how poor people will not be able to pay steeper fines instead of making certain that everyone wears a mask to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
The Supreme Court bench, headed by justice Ashok Bhushan, was hearing a suo motu (after taking note on its own) matter relating to various measures being taken by the Centre and states to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
When the issue of wearing masks cropped up, justice MR Shah, also a part of the bench, referred to the statistics submitted in the court by the Gujarat government to express his surprise over more than Rs10 crore having been collected in fines only on account of people not wearing masks.
“Is it not shocking that more than Rs10 crore is collected only on account of not wearing masks? And this can only be a tip of the iceberg. There could be many more,” said justice Shah.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre and Gujarat government in the matter, replied that the fine amount has now swollen to about Rs19 crore.
At this, justice RS Reddy, another member of the bench, said: “There are reports coming that the rate of infection is going down in the entire country. And look what people are doing. They started celebrating marriages in large gatherings.”
Mehta, on his part, submitted that steeper fines for not wearing mask could be an effective deterrent but the bench replied: “We cannot direct states how much the fine should be. It is for the states to take a call.”
Joining the discussion, advocate Vishal Awtani, who had filed an application in the matter, told the bench that the poor will not be able to pay higher fines, and hence the suggestion by the S-G to increase the fine may not be the appropriate solution.
But this argument did not go down well with the bench, which emphasised that everyone has been given masks free of cost by all the governments.
“Why are poor not wearing masks given to them free of charge? Poor or rich, everyone has to follow the law. This virus does not differentiate between rich and poor,” the bench said.
The court added that had people been finding it too difficult to pay fines, the collection only in one state (Gujarat) could not come to be around Rs18-19 crore, while underscoring that everyone must be encouraged to wear masks, follow social distancing, and abide with other safety regulations.
Consider giving break to residents, interns
During the hearing, the bench also asked the SG to look into the reports that resident doctors and interns were getting breaks from work despite being on duty for months.
“Mr Mehta, you should look into this as well. You may have shortage of doctors, but that doesn’t mean these resident doctors and interns, who are students, will not be given break for months together. Some of them have not had a gap for the last eight months,” the bench told the SG.
The court expressed fear that such prolonged duties could affect their mental health.
“They are mentally broken. They have been working for eight months without break. They also need some rest. Consider giving them break after a month of work. What will happen if the doctors in the making are mentally broken at this age?” it asked Mehta, who assured the bench that the government would examine the issue.
The bench also said that it will pass a detailed order later this week on fire safety norms in hospitals. Earlier, the bench has taken a suo motu cognisance of the fire tragedy at a Covid hospital in Rajkot, where five lives were lost. It had sought reports on fire safety from all states and Union territories.
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