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Court assistant in Tamil Nadu tests COVID-19 Positive; Employees Association blames Principal District Judge, CJM for endangering others

The Association states that, contrary to the High Court's directive for restricted functioning, the two judges had insisted that all employees attend court from April 8 onwards without any valid reason and urgency.

Bar & Bench

The Tamil Nadu Judicial Employees Association ('Association') has addressed a representation to the Madras High Court urging that judicial officers in subordinate courts be instructed not to compel the services of office assistants or basic service employees, unless for urgent official works, amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

The representation was moved after a court assistant in Tirunelveli was found to have tested positive for the Coronavirus, potentially endangering the other court workers, an auto driver who came into contact with her and their families.

The Association has raised grievance that the situation could have been avoided if the Subordinate Judges had adhered to the High Court’s directive to maintain minimal staff for urgent matters alone during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Instead, it is stated that the Principal District Judge and Chief Judicial Magistrate, Tirunelveli "orally insisted the entire staff of Tirunelveli District to attend the Courts from 08.04.2020 onwards without any valid reason and urgency."

"Accordingly, the entire staff were attended the Courts on 08.04.2020 and 09.04.2020 and official reports have been collected from all the Courts in this regard but the staff were not permitted to sign the attendance", the representation adds.

The Association further claims that a meeting was held on April 8, with the participation of judicial officers and important ministerial officers, which was conducted by the Principal District Judge in an air conditioned room "without following the guidelines issued by the Government to avoid spreading of COVID-19.”

The representation adds that, “In the above meeting the Principal District Judge, Tirunelveli has directed all Judicial Officers to ensure cent percent attendance of the staff and directed to ensure all Office Assistants should attend domestic works in the residence of the Judicial Officers without considering the present critical situation.

The Association has also emphasised that the court employees have no issue in performing urgent official work in their respective courts, in line with the High Court’s circular regarding the functioning of courts in Tamil Nadu during the lockdown.

However, it is added that situations like the present one, created without any social responsibility or concern for the employees during a pandemic, would “demoralise the spirit of the employees of Judicial Employees of Tamil Nadu.” Further that,

“Utilising the Office Assistants and Basic Service Employees for the domestic purposes of the higher officials in their residences are not in practice except Subordinate Judiciary of Tamil Nadu and this is not only a gross violation of Government Orders but also inhuman attitude in the pandemic situation. Even the general public have restrain their domestic servants and providing their salary without any work due to the pandemic situation as well as a symbol of gesture (sic).”

Representation by the Association

An additional concern raised is that, while all court employees who had come into contact with the COVID-19 positive office assistant have been quarantined, “neither the Judicial Magistrate, Sankarankovil and his contact sources are isolated and quarantined nor medical tests are taken to them.”

In this backdrop, the Association has urged the High Court to issue necessary directions so that Judicial Officers of the of Subordinate Courts of Tamil Nadu do not to utilise the Office Assistants and Basic Service Employees for their domestic purposes in their residences, nor direct all the employees to come to the Courts without any Emergent and urgent official works.

On April 14, the Principal District Judge, Tirunelveli also informed the High Court that the office assistant, attached to a Judicial Magistrate in Sankarankoil had tested positive for COVID-19, possibly having contracted it from her COVID-19 positive father.

The District Judge stated that all persons who had come in contact with the assistant were quarantined and put to test for COVID-19. Further, he assured the High Court that, “If any of the staff members or Judicial Officers test positive in the future, I would take necessary action for quarantine and also report the same to the Hon’ble High Court.”

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