Supreme Court stays HP high court order to set up district Covid control committees
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday stayed an order of the Himachal Pradesh high court setting up a Covid monitoring committee in each district with a lawyer and legal services authority official to assist the district deputy commissioner in monitoring state operations to curb spread of the pandemic.
Terming the Committee amorphous and lacking expertise, the bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and BV Nagarathna said, “At the Supreme Court, we also set up a National Task Force but that comprised of doctors. This kind of an amorphous committee having district bar association president and district legal services authority secretary, we do not know what is going to be the effect.”
The top court was hearing an appeal by the Himachal Pradesh government challenging the July 7 direction issued by the High Court.
“There was no need for the high court to constitute a district-level committee. Prima facie, we feel that the committee constituted by the high court is not an expert committee consisting of domain experts to deal with specific aspects of Covid-19 pandemic.”
Issuing notice on the state’s appeal, the bench posted the matter after four weeks and ordered staying the high court’s directions. At the same time, the court clarified that the pendency of this matter will not deter high courts from exercising their power under Article 226 to monitor steps taken to specifically deal with various aspects of the pandemic.
Additional advocate general Abhinav Mukherjee told the court that Himachal Pradesh is the first state in the country to administer the first dose of vaccine to 100 per cent of its adult population. By November, the state expects to achieve 100 per cent target for the second dose of vaccine too.
“Such orders have a demoralizing effect on the state bureaucracy particularly when the high court has noted the work being carried out by the state government on every front of Covid management,” Mukherjee said. He said this as one of the directions of the high court required state officials to update the three-member committee on various aspects of Covid control measures.
The court noticed that a state task force was constituted by Governor in November 2020 followed by four district-level committees in May this year to cater to logistics, patient and ambulance management, corporate social responsibility to involve corporate funding for welfare programmes, and media committee.
The state also constituted panchayat-level monitoring committees on May 27. Mukherjee informed the court that the test positivity rate in the state was only 0.7 per cent.
The directions of the high court were passed on a public interest litigation filed by a practising advocate Tarun Pathak last year highlighting various shortcomings by the state in complying with the standard operating procedures in handling Covid-19 as prescribed by Union ministry of health and family welfare.