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The Karnataka High Court today asked the state government to produce the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DM Act) for curbing the COVID-19 pandemic.
This explanation was sought by the Court while it was dealing with a plea alleging that the National Directives for COVID-19 Management, part of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) guidelines issued on May 30, were not being followed in the state of Karnataka.
The Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Nataraj Rangaswamy further urged the state government to issue the SOPs under the DM Act in order for them to be made legally enforceable.
To this, Additional Advocate General Dhyan Chinnappa replied that the Chairman of the State Executive committee will issue a directive saying that SOPs were issued under the DM Act.
"You (State Government) are leaving argument open for people who will commit violations", CJ Oka opined.
Additional Solicitor General MB Nargund, appearing for the Central government, made a similar submission that the Centre's SOPs are to be treated as issued under the DM Act.
Noting this, the Court said,
Karnataka High Court
The Court further observed that even the SOP issued on June 4 does not mention that it has been issued under the DM Act.
During the hearing, the Court also asked the state government about the number of persons allowed to congregate in temples.
"Restriction of Public congregations is still there. There is no number but large public gatherings are prohibited", AAG Chinnappa replied.
"That means even 1,000 people can visit the temple. If 1,000 people visit the temple, do you expect social distancing to be in place?", CJ Oka asked.
To this, Nargund contended that even for transportation of migrants to their home states, the numbers are 1,000 to 1,500 per train. Even they are made to stand in queues, by implementing social distancing norms, Nargund submitted.
On the point of wearing of masks, the Bench pointed out that 40% of people who came to Cubbon Park this morning did not wear masks. Responding to this, AAG Chinnappa stated that police will have to be sent to collect fines from offenders.
Noting this, the Court, in turn asked, "Where is the compulsion to wear masks? Which law has made it compulsory?"
AAG Chinnappa replied that use of face masks and social distancing measures were included in the National Directives for COVID-19 Management.
The Court also queried whether there was a mechanism through which citizens could complain if they came across any violations of the SOP directions.
The reason for stressing on these points was that an enforceable machinery has to be in place so that all directions of the governments are implemented properly, the Court explained.
As the hearing drew a close, Ramesh Puthige, counsel for the petitioner produced photographs pertaining to the final rites of a popular actor in the state in order to buttress his earlier argument that during the said funeral, all social distancing norms were thrown in the bin. On the issue, AAG Chinnappa informed that action had been taken against 59 persons.
The Court has posted the matter for interim orders on June 22.