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The High Court has passed a detailed order covering various aspects including the extension of interim orders, decongestion of jails and recovery proceedings amidst the coronavirus lockdown.
A notice has been issued today intimating that the Kerala High Court will be closed until April 14, in view of the 21 day national lockdown announced by the Central Government last night to combat the spread of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
On Wednesday, a three-judge Bench of the High Court has also extended all interim orders passed by all courts in Kerala by a period of one month.
To this effect, the order passed by a Bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justices CK Abdul Rehim and CT Ravikumar states,
The Court added that, "if any application is filed for extending/vacating an interim order and pending for orders in this Court, the interim orders will be extended for one month."
Similar directions have also been passed with respect to bail and anticipatory bail orders that are likely to expire during the lockdown period. The order passed today states,
The High Court was further informed that the Kerala Government has decided to defer recovery proceedings in matters concerning electricity, water, Abkari and other matters until April 30. The submission made by Additional Advocate General Ranjith Thampan was taken on record by the Court.
As far as recovery proceedings by the Central Government was concerned with respect to Public Sector Undertakings, the Bench was told that the Supreme Court had directed the State to evolve a mechanism to assuage concerns and hardships arising.
This order was passed when the Supreme Court aside the Kerala High Court's earlier directive to stall all such recovery proceedings.
In view of the same, the Kerala High Court on Wednesday confined to observing, "we also deem it fit to state that until such time, we hope that no action would be taken."
Following the Supreme Court's suggestion, the Bench was told that the Kerala Government has constituted a High Powered Committee to examine whether prisoners facing upto 7 years sentences could be released to reduce overcrowding in jails and the risk of viral transmission. The High Court was further informed that the Committee comprises of the following members:
Executive Chairman of the State Legal Services Authority;
the Principal Secretary (Home/Prisons);
Director General of Prisons
A detailed notification regarding the functions of the Committee was also issued today, the Court was told. Therefore, the Bench confined to recording the details of this Committee and did not issue any further directions in this regard.
Before parting with the matter, the Bench also took note of concern that a general order concerning the grant of anticipatory bail ought to be passed, since the Supreme Court had not dealt with this aspect specifically. In this regard, the Court has said,
"... we are of the firm view that, right of personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India should not, at any rate, be infringed by arresting an accused, except in matters where arrest is inevitable. However, the State is at liberty to take appropriate decision in respect of heinous/serious offences and in rest of the cases, State may act accordingly. In the event of any arrest, the Constitutional obligation under Article 20(2) shall be followed in letter and spirit."
Kerala High Court
The Court added, "Needless to state that, bail is the rule and jail is an exception. We make it clear that, the above said directions stand excluded to subjects relating public order/law and order and any action taken by the State Government to combat the outbreak of COVID-19 and actions taken thereof."
Moreover the Bench has also recorded the following when it comes to coercive action against Local Self Government (LSG) Institutions. The Court said,
"It is sincerely expected that, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, State Government, LSG Institutions, Government of India, and Public Sector Undertakings owned and controlled by the State/Central Governments that no coercive action be taken since there is no opportunity to the persons to approach the Courts at present."
Kerala High Court
[Read the Order]