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“It appears that the government of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is sensitive to the seriousness and the urgency of the matter and is addressing the issue from every aspect," the Court said.
Following its directions to implement precautionary measures to guard against the spread of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), the Jammu and Kashmir High Court was informed on Friday that restrictions have been imposed on crowds in religious sites, including to the Viashno Devi Shrine.
As per a Government report dated March 19 that the Court took on record, “[the] Sh. Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board has suspended yatra to the Holy Shrine till March 31st, 2020. On similar lines, all religious leaders are being advised to suspend all religious gatherings at least till March 31, 2020.”
The report informed the Court of various measures undertaken by the Jammu and Kashmir government in view of the coronavirus outbreak including restrictions on movement, quarantine measures, closure of public places including eateries, gyms, workshops and educational institutions, measures to detect and track COVID-19 affected persons etc.
Amicus curiae, Monika Kohli, further informed the Court that, following specific directions to that effect in a previous order, the District authorities have imposed restrictions of assembly of worshipers/pilgrims/devotees in various Temples/Mosques/Gurudwaras/Churches under the National Disaster Management Act, 2005.
The Bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal, in turn, expressed satisfaction that, “it appears that the government of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is sensitive to the seriousness and the urgency of the matter and is addressing the issue from every aspect possible.”
However, a problem that remaining to be addressed concerned the lack of video-conferencing facilities in two Observation Homes in J&K and the lack of connectivity in Juvenile Justice Boards.
In a previous order, dated March 17, the Bench had pointed out that one of the precautionary measures proposed as a safety measure was to hold proceeding via video-conferencing.
However, the Court found, "To our utter chagrin, we have received information that the two Observation Homes in Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, one in Harwan, Srinagar and the other in R.S Pura, do not have the facility of video conferencing available with them. We have also been informed that none of the Juvenile Justice Boards in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have such facility. This is a matter which needs to be addressed on priority.”
The Court, on Friday, also took note, "It has been brought to our notice that certain district courts are also having difficulty of connectivity.”
In response to these issues, the State told the Court that the authorities have approached the IT department and the BSNL authorities to take measures to make the system operational. Taking the submission on record, the Court has directed that urgent steps be taken to put this issue to rest.
“Let urgent steps be taken by the IT department of the UT Government and the BSNL to resolve and ensure that smooth video- conferencing facilities are enabled and ensured between Observation Homes and the Juvenile Justice Boards.”
Jammu & Kashmir High Court
The Chief General Manager of the BSNL, J&K has also directed to be present in Court on the next date of hearing with a complete status report regarding the steps taken to enable connectivity between the Observation Homes and Juvenile Justice Boards and the Courts.
This apart the Court was also told that certain measures are being undertaken in respect of jails. A status report regarding the same is also to be submitted by the next hearing.
Another concern left unaddressed concerning the awareness of the pandemic in institutions such as orphanages, old age homes and shelter homes, and the precautionary measures taken therein.
The Court added on Friday that the needs of slums and homeless people should also be considered by the Government amidst the pandemic.
These aspects are also expected to be take up by the Court in the next hearing. The Bench ordered, “Let the respondents address these concerns as well and place a status report before us on the next date of hearing.”
The matter has been listed to be taken up next on March 24, Tuesday.
[Read the order passed on Friday, March 20]
[Read the order passed on March 17]