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In order to deal with the rise in domestic violence cases during the COVID-19 lockdown, the Karnataka government has informed the High Court that a scheme called “Santhwana” has been implemented to provide counselling, legal aid, and medical aid for victims.
With 193 Santhwana centres working 24x7 at taluk and district levels, the state has informed the Court that necessary counselling services are being provided over the phone.
Moreover, the state told the Court that during the lockdown period, 315 calls were received and attended to by the Santhwana counsellors.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice BV Nagarathna raised a concern whether necessary action was being taken against the offenders as envisaged in the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
"However, it is not clear whether after receiving the calls, the protection officers have been informed to take action under the (DV Act) statute."
In response to the direction issued to the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority (KSLSA) to provide legal aid and support in these cases, it was submitted that District Legal Services Authorities (DSLSAs) have been directed to nominate two women lawyers to provide legal aid and support to One-Stop Centers set up for domestic violence cases.
On the issue of mental health during the lockdown, the Court was told that National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) at Bengaluru had taken certain steps for the benefit of the people.
Counsel appearing for PUCL stated that Dr Naveen Kumar, who is looking after the Helplines provided by NIMHANS, is willing to appear and assist the Court.
Accordingly, the Court has urged Kumar to appear for the next video conference hearing.
This apart, the Court issued directions on a number of other aspects related to the lockdown.
Previously, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) had informed the Court that 40 marshals have been deployed across the 198 wards to locate migrant workers. However, the Court noted that no reports by Chief Marshals were placed on record.
Moreover, the Court observed that the Zonal Joint Commissioners who were made responsible for identification of stranded persons on the streets have also not submitted a report.
In this regard, the Court directed the state government to ensure that BBMP places on record all the reports submitted by the Chief Marshal of BBMP and reports of all the Zonal Joint Commissioners by April 25. Further, the Court added,
"the State Government must clarify the stand whether in the present situation, the homeless people can be allowed to stay on streets. The reason is that if persons continue to stay on streets, there will be a violation of norms including the norms of social distancing."
Despite the ban on religious congregations, the Court was informed that Rathotsava, a religious festival, was conducted in Kalaburgi district on April 16. Further, it was informed that Jatras were also conducted on April 8, 14 and in this regard, the Court asked the state to place on record the action taken against the offenders. Adding on, the Court stated,
"We find that against the offenders, only certain Sections of Indian Penal Code have been applied and for the violation of guidelines issued in exercise of powers under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, penal provisions of the said Act have not been invoked. The State Government must clarify this aspect."
The Court noted that the offences under the state legislation put in place to curb attacks on medical personnel, the Karnataka Epidemic Diseases Ordinance, are made cognizable and bailable. This is in contrast to the Ordinance promulgated by the Centre, which has made the offences against healthcare service personnel as a non-bailable offence.
In this regard, the state was asked to clarify.
Notably, a plea has been moved by Advocate GR Mohan seeking to challenge the Ordinance passed by the Karnataka Government titled 'The Karnataka Epidemic Diseases Ordinance, 2020.
The matter will be next heard on April 28.