‘Sorry state of affairs’: SC pulls up Kerala over Eid relaxations
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rebuked the Kerala government for relaxing Covid-19 restrictions imposed in the state ahead of the Eid al-Adha festival, saying the state’s decision to give in to pressure by businesses to allow the relaxations reflects a “sorry state of affairs”.
The bench of justices RF Nariman and BR Gavai, which had given an ultimatum to the Uttar Pradesh government to reverse its stand on permitting the kanwar yatra, did not issue a similar direction to Kerala since the three-day relaxation ended on Tuesday.
But the bench put the Kerala government on notice, warning that the court will take action against those responsible if a surge in cases is reported.
“If, as a result of the July 17, 2021 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,” said the bench.
Kerala is currently the Indian state with the worst outbreak of the disease.On average, it has been adding 13,962 new infections daily for the last seven days – more than any other state in the country.
In view of the upcoming Eid celebrations, the state government on July 17 allowed all shops to open in areas with 15% or less positivity rate for three days (July 18-20) and for a single day (July 19) in areas with TPR above 15%. Experts believe positivity rate -- an indicator of the spread of an outbreak within a population -- over 5% is cause for concern. Eid is to be celebrated between July 21 and July 23.
The state’s announcement prompted Delhi resident PKD Nambiar to approach the Supreme Court against the relaxations and complain that it amounted to playing with the lives of people.
Kerala chief secretary VP Joy, responding to a notice from the top court on Monday, defended the decision to ease restrictions, and cited expert advice and pressure from market associations.
“To give in to pressure groups so that the citizenry of India is laid bare to a nationwide pandemic discloses a sorry state of affairs… This 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 bench said.
“Pressure groups of all kinds, religious or otherwise, cannot in any manner interfere with the most precious fundamental right of all the citizens of India,” the top court said.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, who appeared for Nambiar, said it was shocking that the government had gone ahead to open up markets just to please traders for political reasons.
CPI(M) leader A Vijayaraghavan said the government will go by the top court’s directive.
The court also made a pointed reference to the relaxation granted in areas, which were reporting TPR of more than 15%, underlining that stringent restrictions were imposed in such areas (classified as Category D) by the state government on even opening of shops for essential items.
The July 17 notification, however, allowed all shops in Category D areas to remain open for the entire day on Monday. Public were cautioned that “as far as possible” persons visiting shops may have one dose of vaccine and follow strict Covid-19 protocols.
The bench observed: “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 relaxation for one day to a category D area was wholly uncalled for.”
The court told Kerala to pay heed to its constitutional duty to protect life and health of citizens under Article 21 and Article 144, the provision by which all civil and judicial authorities in the country have to act in aid of the Supreme Court.
At 126,396 cases, Kerala has the highest number of active cases in the country and it alone accounts for a third of all such cases.
This is the second state to be pulled up by the top court in recent days. The Supreme Court last week took cognisance (on its own) of reports that the Uttar Pradesh government had decided to allow the kanwar yatra despite concerns that the pilgrimage could trigger a spate of Covid-19 infections.
The court gave UP government a deadline to reconsider its decision and said the “yatra cannot go on – 100%”. Subsequently, the BJP-led UP government announced that the yatra has been called off by the kanwar sangh (pilgrim associations). The top court closed the matter on Monday.