No reasonable justification for LG to object to HPC looking into cause of deaths during COVID-19 pandemic: Delhi High Court told

The government’s response was made in a plea moved by a woman who lost her husband during the second wave of the pandemic in May.
Arvind Kejriwal, Anil Baijal and  Delhi HC
Arvind Kejriwal, Anil Baijal and Delhi HC

The Delhi High Court was informed by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government that there was no "reasonable or lawful" justification for the Lieutenant Governor to object to the constitution of a High-Powered Committee (HPC) to look into the cause of deaths during the second wave of COVID-19.

The government’s response before a Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh was made in a plea moved by a woman who lost her husband during the second wave of the pandemic in May.

The woman was said to have read newspaper reports, realising that the the GNCTD had constituted a committee of experts with the mandate to examine cases of deaths of persons during the second wave. She, therefore, was stated to have sought directions to the Delhi government to operationalise the HPC, refer her case to the committee and also grant her compensation as per its recommendations.

The government's reply further stated that the reasons given by the LG in his noting dated June 8, 2021 for interdicting the constitution of the HPC were “misconceived” and did not withstand the test laid down by the Supreme Court for exercise of power under the proviso to Article 239AA (4).

In these circumstances, the decision of the answering respondent to constitute a high-powered committee has to be considered to be final and binding,” it added.

The Bench was also informed that the HPC was constituted on May 27, 2021, but the order of its constitution was kept in abeyance by an order on May 31, 2021. Thereafter, on June 4, the Delhi Health Minister decided to revoke the order by which the constitution of the committee was kept in abeyance.

The file was sent to the Lieutenant Governor for information in regular course. However, after perusal of the file the LG has expressed a view contrary to that of the minister and stated that the department should await the outcome of proceedings in the Supreme Court/High Court and the guidelines framed by NDMA in this matter,” it added.

The affidavit further claimed that the view was based on a “misconception” regarding the subject matter of the proceedings pending in the Supreme Court and the function of the HPC constituted by the Delhi government.

The government also referred to a Supreme Court order, saying it was evident from the judgment that the apex court was concerned with the payment of ex-gratia compensation to families of deceased persons who succumbed during the pandemic period, regardless of the cause of death.

There is no gainsaying that the second wave of the pandemic has wreaked havoc in the lives of the residents of Delhi and resulted in large scale casualties. While there can be no reparation for the loss of a loved one, the attempt of the answering respondent, an elected government responsible to the residents of the NCT, is to provide a means to establishing accountability for the deaths,” the affidavit said.

After perusing the affidavit today, the High Court granted two weeks to the LG to file a reply and posted the matter for further hearing on September 21.

The petitioner claimed that her husband was not suffering from any co-morbidities and the discharge summary did not explain the cause of his death with sufficient particulars and details. She thus apprehended that the death of her husband was caused due to negligence of the hospital.

Aggrieved by this state of affairs, she approached the Court desiring to know the cause of death of her husband through the committee of experts.

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