HYDERABAD: Coming down heavily on the state government for not taking steps to reduce gathering of people in public places, the Telangana High Court on Monday asked the government to take a call on the matter in 48 hours.
If the government does not do so, the court would be compelled to order enforcement of night curfew or weekend lockdown in view of the steep spurt in Covid-19 cases, a division bench of the court said.
The division bench comprising Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy, referred to the court’s earlier advisories to the government, and reiterated that the number of participants in marriages should be no more than 50 and at funerals 20.
Occupancy in the cinema halls should be half or one-third, the bench said, and added that steps should taken to reduce the footfalls in pubs, malls, celebrations, functions etc.
“Keeping in view public health and safety, we have been asking the government to issue circulars or GOs. But it appears that the government is hesitant. Obviously, priority should be given to public health. Do whatever you can in the next 48 hours. If not, this court will take a call,” the bench told the government.
The court said: “We are refraining from directing the government to impose night curfew or weekend lockdown. But, at the same time, we don’t want the situation in Telangana state to be like in many states like Delhi, Maharashtra and etc, where curfews and lockdowns were imposed. If the state government is not going to take a call to reduce footfalls at public places, then the court will take a call.”
The bench was dealing with PILs seeking directions to the government for steps to contain the spread of Covid-19 and treatment of infected patients.
On April 10, the court had specifically directed the government to furnish circulars issued to enforce the provisions of the Disaster Management Act and Epidemics Act.
The government only furnished a circular it had issued for imposing a fine against those who were not wearing masks, and submitted that all other standard operating procedures issued by the Centre in November 2020 during Unlock-6 were being followed.
Advocate-General BS Prasad said the government was monitoring the situation by the minute.
Irked by a lack of crucial information about the availability of oxygen beds and ICU beds for Covid patients, in the report submitted by the public health department, Chief Justice Hima Kohli had asked for the presence of the health secretary and the director of public health in the court. They appeared in the virtual mode in the post-lunch session.
The bench grilled them for not furnishing the data and details it had asked for and sought to know the minute details of the steps that were taken to contain the second wave.
Reacting to the submissions that the government was following the SOPs issued by the Centre, the court asked whether the situation now was like November last year. When the positive cases were escalating, does the state not have the power to take adequate steps, it asked.
The court also checked the website of the health department and the hyperlink of the beds status details in each notified Covid hospital, to cross-check the contentions of the officers. The officers said the government was closely monitoring the situation. The court pointed out many flaws in the daily media bulletin which showed fewer cases as compared to the district-level reports.
“What is the state going to make of the public of the Telangana state? Sitting ducks!,” the court said.
“Sorry for being tough with the government, as this is a question of life and death of the citizens. Your monitoring is not good enough. The state government perhaps expects of the High Court to do the R&D work for the state. The state has left it to us to collate and tabulate the entire data sought for, and we take strong exception to the report filed by it. The report is beautifully silent on the number of issues and details sought by the court,” observed Chief Justice Hima Kohli.
Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy asked whether the revenues and finances are more important to the government than public health. “Why delay in imposing restrictions when the cases are largely increasing? How are the hospitals asking for positive reports from the patients who deserve to be in hospitals? Your report only says that 84 per cent of the cases are asymptomatic. Then how they are compelled for a positive report?”
The court issued the following directions to the government:
* Occupancy rate in cinema halls should be 50 per cent or even 1/3rd of the hall capacity depending upon the situation
* Tabulated statement showing number of tests conducted for the last one week through RT-PCR, RAT etc
* Steps be taken to monitor cases at airports, railway stations, inter-state bus terminals
* A decision on putting a curb on the passengers coming from neighbouring states
* A decision to be taken by the government to impose night curfew or partial lockdown during the weekends in the state and the districts where the cases are more
* Directions to be issued to the Kumbh Mela returnees to get themselves tested, quarantined etc.
The next status report should be filed within two days and PILs have been adjourned to April 23.