[Kumbh Mela] Uttarakhand High Court finds State ill-prepared to tackle likely demographic explosion amid COVID-19, directs remedial steps

"A bare perusal of the data submitted by the learned Chief Secretary, and the Secretary, Medical Health and Family Welfare, clearly reveals that the medical health care system is woefully lacking", the Court said.
[Kumbh Mela] Uttarakhand High Court finds State ill-prepared to tackle likely demographic explosion amid COVID-19, directs remedial steps
GangaCalcutta High Court

The Uttarakhand High Court has directed the State to strengthen its available health infrastructure in view of the upcoming Kumbh Mela, which may see huge crowds assembling in Haridwar amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court had earlier posed certain questions to the State's Chief Secretary, and the Secretary, Medical Health and Family Welfare on its preparedness to handle the Kumbh Mela, 2021, which is due to be held from February 27 to April 27, 2021.

From the State's response, the Bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Manoj Kumar Tiwari opined that the available health infrastucture did not appear to be sufficient to handle the anticipated crowds.

"A bare perusal of the data submitted by the learned Chief Secretary, and the Secretary, Medical Health and Family Welfare, clearly reveals that the medical health care system is woefully lacking; it is too ill-prepared to tackle the demographic explosion that Haridwar is about to witness within a month", reads the order.

Given that Haridwar already has a residential population of twenty lakh, the influx of fifty lakh people during the Mela, would make the population to certainly skyrocket, the Court noted.

Referring to the State's submissions as regards the available medical health infrastructure, the Court added that the availability of 5,493 beds, with hardly 500 ventilators attached to 500 beds, would certainly be insufficient.

It went on to observe that the influx of such a large population would challenge the civic amenities available in the city and the district, while also taking a critical view of the State's proposal to not construct tents this year as a measure to dissuade more persons from assembling for the Mela.

"... most surprisingly, while the State Government expects the entry of ten to fifty lakh people, it has no plans of constructing or erecting any tents for housing such a large population. It is rather inconceivable as to where ten/fifty lakh persons would be housed in the dead of the winter?", asked the Court.

Having raised these concernes, the Bench has now directed the State Government to carry out the following measures by the next date of hearing, i.e.:

  1. Immediately reply to the Central Government's queries regarding the arrangements in place to conduct the Mela, submitting necessary information so that an SOP for the Kumbh Mela, 2021 can be issued.

  2. Consider the erection of a sufficient number of tents, and the creation of tented layout, for housing people who would come to Haridwar during the Kumbh Mela.

  3. Seriously consider the increasing in the medical health care system, both in terms of the physical infrastructure, in terms of the human resources.

  4. Immediately get in touch with the other State Governments, across the country, and to inform the public at large about the arrangements being made, about the necessity of reducing the number of persons entering the State and coming to Haridwar for Kumbh Mela etc.

  5. Coordinate the State's efforts under the guidance of the Central Government for tackling such a large gathering of people because the repercussions of the spread of COVID- 19 would impact the entire country as a whole.

Advocate General SN Babulkar has been directed to submit a detailed report on the concrete steps taken by the government on the directions issued by the Court, on or before February 15.

The District Judge, Haridwar has also been directed to submit a report on the availability and the extent of the health care system functioning in Haridwar, both in the government sector and the private one.

The Chief Secretary, the Secretary, Medical Health and Family Welfare, the Mela Adhikari and the District Magistrate, Haridwar have also been asked to be present before the High Court through video conferencing on February 22 when the matter will be heard next.

Advocates Shiv Bhatt and Piyush Garg were present for the petitioners in the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petitions on which these directions were issued. Advocate General SN Babulkar, assisted by Chief Standing Counsel CS Rawat and Additional Chief Standing Counsel Anil K Bisht, were present for the State of Uttarakhand. Assistant Solicitor General Rakesh Thapliyal was present for the Union of India.

[Read Order]

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