[Coronavirus Lockdown] Karnataka HC dismisses petition seeking to quash govt order allowing supermarkets to remain open 24x7
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[Coronavirus Lockdown] Karnataka HC dismisses petition seeking to quash govt order allowing supermarkets to remain open 24x7

Rintu Mariam Biju

The Karnataka High Court yesterday dismissed a petition challenging an order of the police by which supermarkets were allowed to remain open 24x7 during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice BV Nagarathna stated,

"...it cannot be disputed that in lockdown period, it is the duty of the State Government and Central Government to ensure the uninterrupted supply of grocery and other essential articles to the citizens. Depending upon the circumstances and local situation, it is for the Authorities of the State to take a decision regarding the time during which grocery shops and super markets can be kept open. The State Government can always issue directions for strictly observing social distancing and other norms. Prayer (a) concerning the decision to keep open super markets 24x7 relates to purely a policy decision. We do not find anything arbitrary in the said policy decision and therefore, no interference is called for by this Court in writ jurisdiction."

Karnataka High Court

The petitioner's line of argument was that if supermarkets are kept open 24x7, a large number of people would enter them and touch the articles which are displayed for sale, resulting in the spread of COVID-19. On this ground, it was argued that the working hours of supermarkets ought to be restricted.

The same petitioner had also challenged the use of Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) buses for facilitating transport of people in the city.

On this aspect, the Court held that,

"....it cannot be disputed that for the Government employees and for the employees of the local authorities, who are working in the Departments providing essential services, transport arrangement has to be made by the Authorities. It is obvious from Annexure ‘D’ that necessary measures are being taken for maintaining social distancing while traveling is allowed by BMTC buses. It is stated in Annexure ‘D’ that only 20 passengers can travel by BMTC buses at a time."

Adding on, the Court opined that it does not find anything wrong, arbitrary or illegal in the decision taken to allow BMTC buses to be used for transportation of persons who are providing essential services.

Print, news and digital media are committing offences under Disaster Management Act, 2005

While hearing a separate petition, it was argued that print, news and digital media are committing offences which are punishable under Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

However, the Bench noted that the petitioner had not impleaded the media houses that were allegedly indulging in illegalities. Further, it was observed that before approaching the writ court, the petitioner had not moved the concerned authorities under the 2005 Act or under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and the Rules framed thereunder.

On these grounds, the Court refused to entertain the above petition.

Drop migrant workers to their home towns

The High Court further dismissed a separate petition seeking a direction to the state government to drop migrant workers to their homes for free, if tested negative for Coronavirus.

It was submitted that if a labourer who is asymptomatic can be permitted to be transported to his place of work, there is no reason why he should be denied an opportunity to go back home.

The petitioner had relied on the Standard Operating System issued by the Central government on April 19, which provides groups of migrants who wish to return to their places of work within the state where they are presently located, should be screened and those who are asymptomatic should be transported to their respective places of work.

Additionally, it was argued that fundamental rights of the migrants cannot be violated by detaining them in the shelters or in quarantine facilities. Therefore, neither the government nor the courts can prevent the migrant workers from reaching their respective homes, the petitioner contended.

In this regard, the Bench held,

"Firstly, we must note here that the Writ Court is dealing with the extraordinary situation arising out the spread of COVID-19. Secondly, the petitioner has not challenged the order dated 29th March 2020 which enjoins the State Governments and the Union Territory Governments to ensure that the migrants who have moved out to reach their home states/home towns must be kept in the nearest shelters with quarantine facilities."

Moreover, it was clarified by the Court that the issues of providing proper shelter to various categories of migrants, homeless and other persons belonging to the marginalized sections of the society were being monitored by the Court and further directions were also being issued in this regard.

On the point of the Centres' Standard Operating System, the Court opined that,

"The Standard Operating System provides that in the event migrants wish to return to their places of work within the State where they are presently located, they would be screened and those who are asymptomatic would be transported to their respective places of work. This direction ensures that the migrant workers get employment at their respective places of work wherever such work is permissible. The Standard Operating System specifically reiterates that no movement of the labourers outside the State/Union Territory from where they are currently located is permitted."

On these grounds, the Court refrained from entertaining the petition.

[Read the orders here]

Karnataka HC - cable directions.pdf
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Karnataka HC Supermarkets.pdf
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karnataka HC - migrant workers.pdf
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