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The Patna High Court on Tuesday once again urged the state government to revisit its earlier policy of not engaging with members of civil society while dealing with the various issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S Kumar held that “in a democratic society, the Civil Society cannot be ignored, more so in the times of disaster.”
Moreover, the Court observed that such acts of civil society, particularly those done on a voluntary basis without claiming any credit for rendering such services, will not have any adverse effect.
“Well, we are of the considered view that perhaps it would be in public interest, as also that of the State, that the Government revisits its earlier policy of not engaging with the members of the civil society, on individual or organized basis, in dealing with the issue of at least manning the crowds at the Railway Station/Destination or at the quarantine Centre established by the State at different places in Bihar. May be fully manning the quarantine centres."
Patna High Court
In an order passed last month, the High Court had urged the state to favourably consider appointing a Nodal Officer to combat issues arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic, as was suggested by NITI Aayog.
In the order passed yesterday, the Court drew attention on the fact that 1/10th of the population of India lived in Bihar and with almost eight lakh people coming to the state from different parts of the country, the problem of human management needed to be addressed immediately.
“…the problem of human management itself, let alone any thing else, needs to be addressed immediately for it cannot brook any delay, else it would adversely affect lives of each one residing in Bihar. The matter needs to be examined with a sense of urgency and seriousness.”
In this regard, the Court directed Principal Secretary, Disaster Management Department, Government of Bihar to file affidavits on all the issues highlighted before the next date.
The Bench passed the above observations while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Advocate Parul Prasad, assisted by her research associate Akshat Agrawal (final year, Jindal Global Law School), challenging the refusal of District Magistrates to allow civil society organizations and NGOs to supply essentials for poor/needy people amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
In a connected matter pertaining to identification of persons entering the state filed by Advocate Rajiv Ranjan, the Bench directed the Principal Secretary to indicate the mechanism and procedure evolved right from the point of identification of persons intending to return to Bihar, up to the point of their housing at quarantine centres.
The Court also stressed on the need for increasing the number of tests to be conducted.
"Undoubtedly the task is horrendous and the issue is of prime importance. If approximately more than four lakhs persons have already entered the State and are housed at these Patna High Court quarantine centres, with an equal number expected to reach Bihar in the immediate future, the Administration must under all circumstances take measures in ensuring not only their safety and security, but also those who are already residing in the State."
The matter will next be heard on May 22.
[Read order here]