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The Karnataka High Court today expressed its dissatisfaction at the measures adopted by the Central and state governments to enforce the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued for curbing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajit Shetty was hearing a plea alleging that the National Directives for COVID-19 Management, part of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) guidelines issued on May 30, were not being followed in the state of Karnataka.
During the hearing, the state government had informed that the Bench that on its behalf, directions and SOPs pertaining to social distancing were issued by the Commissioner of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and DG-IGP of the Bengaluru Police.
Revealing its consternation at this submission, the Court stated,
"Who can exercise powers under Section 24 of the Disaster Management Act (Powers and functions of State Executive Committee in the event of threatening disaster situation)? Who has authorised the Commissioner of BBMP to issue orders under section 24?..... Show us the statutory power that the State executive can delegate its power."
The order reads in this regard,
"The State governement is relying upon SOPs issued by Commissioner of BBMP and Director General of Police. The State is unable to statisfy us that the Director General of Police or the Commissioner of BBMP can issue enforceable directions under the Disaster Management Act, 2005."
The Bench went on to note,
Karnataka High Court
The Court asserted that under Section 24 of the Act, the direction has to be issued by the state executive to take such measures.
"The State executive will have to issue the direction and direct the department or any other authority to comply with it..... The State executive cannot delegate its power to the BBMP Commissioner."
Additionally, the Court remarked,
Karnataka High Court
The Bench went on to observe that,
"Temples are thrown open, Malls are thrown open. However, there is no machinery in place to check all this."
Next, turning to the Central government, the Court asked,
"Go to any of the SOPs of 4th June.... where do the SOPs say that this is exercised under Section 10 of the Disaster Management Act (Powers and functions of National Executive Committee)?"
"In the SOPs, it has not been mentioned. I am straight away conceding it", Additional Soliticor General MB Nargund replied.
Noting this, the Bench commented,
"Why are you keeping an argument open for those who violate SOPs? A simple order can be issued saying that these are the directions issued under Disaster Management Act...Pass a seperate order under Section 51 of Disaster Management Act...That will solve the issue."
ASG Nargund assured the Court that the same would be looked into.
Considering the urgency of the matter, the same will be next heard on June 19.
Last week, the Karnataka High Court had observed that certain provisions in the SOPs issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare pertaining to curbing COVID-19 must be "relooked", as there were no penal provisions for breach of SOP guidelines.
The Court had asked the Central and state governments to place the following on record:
How the breach of guidelines in SOPs can be penalized?
How provisions of SOPs can be made legally enforceable?
A relevant point noted by the Bench was that directions issued by the authorities under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 can be enforced to a certain extent by invoking provisions 51 to 60. Refusal to comply with the directions issued by the Central/state government or the National/State Excecutive Committee is made an offence under the Act, the Court highlighted.
Having said that, in the present case, it was made out that the said SOPs are neither a part of the order issued by the National Disaster Management Authority or the State Disaster Management Authority. At least no such document is placed no record, the Bench remarked.