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Petition filed in Supreme Court seeking judicial inquiry into lapses in Centre's COVID-19 response

"An inquiry of this nature assumes greater importance in light of the fact that there has been no parliamentary oversight qua the policies and actions of the Respondent", the plea states.

Shruti Mahajan

A petition has been filed before the Supreme Court seeking the constitution of a Commission of Inquiry to look into the “gross mismanagement” of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Central government.

The PIL seeks a direction from the Court to set up a panel under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 to look into the lapses in the government’s handling of the pandemic, and the deleterious impact of the same on the lives and livelihood of the people.

It is submitted that such an inquiry is warranted in order to ensure accountability on the part of the Centre in dealing with the pandemic.

The petitioners - who include retired bureaucrats, an Army veteran, and an academician - state that they have come together to file the petition owing to their anxiety and concern over the government's mismanagement and misgovernance of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the issues which are sought for to be probed by the Commission include failure of the government to take effective and timely steps to contain the spread of COVID-19 in India even after being notified about the same by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in January; failure to adhere to statutory requirements under the Disaster Management Act including the one pertaining to drafting of a National Plan; failure to consult a national task force; and failure to make timely and targeted provisions to combat the effect of the lockdown, among others.

“…the aforesaid lapses on the part of the Respondent while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a severe infraction of the fundamental rights of the people.”
Plea filed in Supreme Court

The government failed to “nip the problem in the bud” by failing to screen incoming international travellers in the early months of the year and then failed to carry out awareness programs, the plea states.

Subsequently, the “devastating” manner in which the COVID-19 lockdown was implemented affected the jobs and livelihoods of the people, as well as the economy, it is averred. Not only the youth, but crores of migrant workers lost their jobs and livelihood with a large chunk of population being stranded in places away from their homes, the plea points out.

The delay in the procurement of safety gear for medical and health professionals by the government is also highlighted.

The petition further states that the announcement of the imposition of the first lockdown with a mere four-hour window given was “arbitrary, irrational, and without due consultation with experts or State governments.” Additionally,

“In spite of being the harshest and most restrictive lockdown in the world, it has failed to arrest the spread of the disease. In fact the number of new infections are rising everyday and even the Indian Council for Medical research (ICMR) has admitted that in spite of the stringent lockdown, India has entered the stage of community transmission of the disease...”

Therefore, the petitioner has prayed for these lapses to be looked into by an independent panel headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, along with the experts of various fields.

“An inquiry of this nature assumes greater importance in light of the fact that there has been no parliamentary oversight qua the policies and actions of the Respondent in respect of its response to COVID-19 pandemic."
Petition filed in the Supreme Court

The petitioner adds that the Court, in its capacity as parens patriae, must direct for constitution of a Commission to look into the government's lapses.

The petition is drawn by Advocate Shyam Agarwal and filed through Advocate Prashant Bhushan.

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news