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Response of Judiciary to India’s Migrant Crisis During Lockdown- Part-II

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Shimla--The real competency test for the Nation isn’t ordering lock-down – it’s coming out of it. Some of the questions facing us amid these crises are; How civilized we are as a nation during this time of scarcity and fear? Are we helping the poor and needy or are we allowing them to be disproportionately impacted by this lockdown? Do we have adequate shelter homes for Migrant workers? Do we have enough food and transportation arrangement for them? Did our Government and administration use this expensive time of lockdown to prepare to “test and track” infected individuals, make provision for providing masks to the population, build isolation facilities, and other required medical facilities? These questions are haunting our nation in the present and will haunt us in the future too.

In this series of articles, we are discussing the role that judiciary has played during the time of this crisis. We have already gone through three orders of the Patna High Court.

Also Read: Response of Judiciary to India’s Migrant Crisis During Lockdown Part-I

Last month Madras High Court issued an order laced with emotion, something unusual for the courts. In a habeas corpus petition asking the government to produce 400 Tamil workers stuck in Maharashtra, a bench observed:

“One cannot control his/her tears after seeing the pathetic condition of migrant labourers shown in the media for the past one month. It is nothing but a human tragedy.

It is very unfortunate that those persons were neglected by all the authorities. The heart breaking stories are reported in the print as well as visual media that millions of workers were compelled to start walking to their native States with their little children carrying all their belongings over their head, surviving on the food provided by good Samaritans, as no steps were taken by the Governments to help those migrant workers.

..it is a pity to see the migrant labourers walking for days together to reach their native places and in the process, some of them had lost their lives due to accidents. The Government authorities of all the States should have extended their human services to those migrant labourers.”

In another case, the Andhra Pradesh High Court cited disturbing news reports to order the state government to take specific measures under seven different heads, including medical, transportation and food.

The court began the order thus:

“This court notices that the labour who have left their ancestral homes and villages and moved to the cities for better livelihood to ensure that all of us live in comfort are on the roads today.

If at this stage this court does not react and pass these orders, this court would be failing in its role as a protector and alleviator of suffering.”

The Karnataka High Court has directed the governments to decide on paying the transportation cost of workers going back to their villages and towns. It reminded the governments of the huge contribution the workers have made to the country’s development, insisting that the executive should come forward to help them at a time when they have lost their livelihoods.

TheDelhi High Court has also taken up this issue and has sought the response of the governments. Further, it has asked the government to take “all care” for repatriation of migrant workers, as and when they approach their concerned nodal officer and has directed

“So far as restoration of helpline number is concerned, we direct the Delhi government to ensure the uninterrupted working of their helpline number so that people may approach the Nodal Officers through the helpline numbers. The very purpose of helpline number is to help the people and, therefore, the same must be functional.”

The Gujrat High Court also took up the matter Suo Moto and observed:

“Everyday hundreds of migrant workers with children are seen in different parts of the state, more particularly on the highways. Their condition is pathetic. They are living in the most inhumane and horrendous conditions. As we have observed earlier, although all necessary steps are being taken by the state government, more modalities need to be worked out at the earliest to ease the suffering of the people at large.”

 

In another case the Uttrakhand High Court took notice of the Report filed by  District Legal Services Authorities which stated that;

“…quarantine centers which have been established at Village level are the worst of the lot.”

No facilities in these centers to provide food to the inmates. Food is being provided by the villagers and the family members of the inmates.

In many of these quarantine centers where the inmates are more than 20 to 30, there are only 1 or 2 toilets. What is most shocking is that the hygienic condition of these toilets is also extremely poor.

Apart from this, many of the toilets which are in urban areas are in bad conditions, as these toilets are not being cleaned regularly.”

The Court directed the Secretary, Health and the Secretary, Disaster Management, Government of Uttarakhand, to pass appropriate orders to District Magistrates so that their Order dated 4th May 2020 be implemented in letter and spirit and so that there are enough of funds with the “Gram Sabhas” to manage and run these quarantine centres. Secretary, Health, Government of Uttarakhand and the concerned District Magistrate were directed to remove all the shortcomings in these quarantine centres.

Court also observed,

What is absolutely necessary is to maintain the quarantine centers at village level, for which proper funds be provided to the “Gram Sabhas”, as contained in the Government Order dated 04.05.2020, for which there has to be a proper coordination between District Magistrates and the panchayat level officers and the elected representatives of the people.

Matter be listed on 17th June 2020. [Sachdanand Dabral v. UOI, WP (PIL) No. 58 of 2020].

In another case, the  Allahabad High Court ordered the State Government to ensure that persons who have completed their quarantine period be released from the Quarantine Centres provided they have tested negative. The Order stated;

‘Persons, who have completed their quarantine period and have tested negative can not be further detained in the Quarantine Centers against their wishes. It would be in violation of personal liberty under Article 221 of the Constitution of India.’

The Bench also directed the Chief Secretary, State of Uttar Pradesh to set up a three members committee in every district to ensure smoother, greater and more effective functioning of the Quarantine Centers.

(The post was first published in https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/ )

(To Be Continued)

Deven Khanna is a Lawyer, practicing at High Court of Himachal Pradesh, other H.P Courts/Tribunals and the Supreme Court of India, he is an alumnus of a National Law School. For any queries related to the articles, he can be contacted at 7018469792 or at khannadeven@gmail.com. The personal blog is at https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/

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Himachal: Warnings of Delta Plus Virulence Fall on Deaf Ears, No Restriction on Visitors from Affected States  

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Shimla-Yesterday, the Centre government directed the state governments to take immediate measure in wake of the spread of more infectious Delta Plus variant.  As the Delta Plus variant is posing a threat of the third wave, the states were told to take steps like preventing crowds, increase testing, more focus on surveillance, contact tracing and put boosting vaccine coverage on a priority basis. Following it, Himachal Pradesh Government might have announced an alert over Delta plus variant, but there wasn’t any follow up on instructions passed by scientists and health experts to take strict restrictive measures ahead of the impending third wave. 

To make it worse, high rank officials and political leaders were seen flouting Covid-19 SOPs on several occasion, which sent wrong messages to the masses. The pictures and videos showing flouting of Covid appropriate behavior by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur and Directorial General of Police, Sanjay Kundu, alongwith other staff for Anupam Kher is the most recent to mention. A group photograph and video of the same were widely circulated on social media and invited huge criticism from the people.  

So far, the state has not reported any case of the Delta Plus variant. But the neighboring states – Punjab, Haryana, and Jammu & Kashmir – reported their first cases yesterday. This puts the boarding areas, like in Una district, at a higher risk. Chief Secretary to HP Government, Anil Khachi, yesterday said samples have been sent for genome sequencing. 

Despite repeated warnings of Delta plus variant (B.1.617.2.1.), Himachal Pradesh has thrown its borders open to all and lifted all restrictions for inter-state travel in just one go. From June 23 onwards, the state government removed the condition for registering on the e-pass portal for visitors intending to enter the state. In the Cabinet meeting held on June 22, 201, the government first decided that e-pass restrictions would be removed from July 1, but later it changed the decision and instead implemented it immediately.

This haphazard decision is said to have come under huge pressure from the hospitality industry – the worst-hit sector, leading to financial crisis and mass unemployment among its stakeholders. Related associations had been approaching Chief Minister Jairam Thakur with their pleas to provide relief, but mostly faced disappointment. The stakeholders say the state government didn’t provide any significant relief, which is making the survival of the industry difficult.

Also Read: Read Eight Reliefs That Himachal’s Devastated Tourism Industry Seeks from HP Govt  

Also, stakeholder of the industry, especially hoteliers, had been demanding the removal of restrictions and conditions on the entry of tourists to Himachal so that they could fetch the remaining peak tourist season.

With its inability to offer relief, the HP Government took the chance to waive off restrictions in a haste.

At the same time, the state government has decided to conduct offline examinations for the undergraduate classes starting from July. A section of the students had been condemning the HP government for scheduling exams without vaccinating students. Some student bodies had been asking the government as to why online classes were possible but not online exams. 

The state government also waived off restrictions on timings for the opening of markets/shops.

As scientists and health experts warn of the virulence of the new variant and with neighboring states already on alert after reporting cases of the new variant, the HP government hasn’t even mentioned any intention to at least put a check on the visitor from the states where cases of Delta Plus are being reported. Carrying an RT-PCR negative report for visitors from such states/cities would have been a wiser step. 

Officially, the state is on alert, but no measures have been announced to check the entry and spread of the variant into the state. The state government does speak of preparing for the anticipated third wave, but there is hardly any long-term preventive strategy. The Covid appropriate behavior is hard to adopt when markets and tourist places are crowded with visitors.

Why Delta Plus is a Big Concern

The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled the Delta variant as ‘Variant of Concern’.

The Centre and scientific/medical institutes in India also agree with that Delta Plus as a variant of concern and could be the cause of impending third wave. Last Tuesday, based on the findings of INSACOG, the Union Health Ministry had alerted and advised Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh regarding the Delta Plus variant of COVID19.

INSACOG had warned that the Delta Plus variant has increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.

“Delta variant is more resistant to medication, treatment and vaccination. Therefore, people who have been vaccinated can still be affected by this variant and can go on to get a clinical illness, Archana Dhawan Bajaj, director, Nurture IVF, told a national English Daily.

“Neutralising antibodies against this variant post-vaccination seem to be nearly five times lower in people who have already been vaccinated than the other variants,” she said.

Further,  Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, ex-Head Scientist of Epidemiology and communicable diseases, ICMR, has also expressed concern over the reports that Delta Plus has reported pathophysiologic change and affecting different organs.  Dr Raman says that it could transfer from cell to cell and would more likely produce neurological symptoms as a common manifestation.

So far India has reported 51 cases of the Delta Plus variant.

Delta Plus variant is a variant of Delta with an additional mutation -B.1.617.2.1.

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Kullu Brawl: New Video Shows Farmers Expressing Discontent with CM Jairam Thakur-led Govt in Front of Union Minister

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Kullu-The Superintendent of Police, Gaurav Singh, 2013 batch IPS, and Chief Minister Jairam Thakur’s Security Personal, ASP Brijesh Sood, got into an ugly scuffle on June 23 and created an unruly situation. A verbal spat between the two officials of the HP Police led to slapping and kicking each other.

What’s humiliating for the state police department was the fact that this unwanted incident occurred on an occasion where the Chief Minister had come to the Airport to welcome a Union Minister – Nitin Gadkari.

Also Read: IPS Gaurav Singh and CM’s Security Personnel Exchange Slaps & Kicks, Video Goes Viral, Inquiry Ordered

The video has appeared on national news channels and the incident made headlines, raising question over the professionalism of the state police. This part of the entire episode, is getting more attention from the media. But a new video has emerged adding another layer to the controversy, as when Union Minister Nitin Gadkari stopped the car and got out to speak to people who were holding a banner of “Four-Lane Sangharsh Samiti” and BJP flags. It turned out, that these people were farmers, who have been affected by the four-lane project as their lands were acquired for it. These farmers allege that before coming into power, the Bharatiya Janata Party, in its election manifesto, had promised compensation four times the circle rate if elected to power. These farmers also allege that after coming to power, the government didn’t fulfil this promise that also included employment to affected youth. These aggrieved farmers say they have been raising their grievance for the last four years, but the government didn’t lend an ear. With these grievances, the farmers had come to see the Union Minister.

Gadkari’s visit has come right before the by-elections in the state. He is supposed to inaugurate and dedicate some projects during this visit. This visit was supposed to leave a positive impact. The video also shows that the farmers’ group did not create any obstruction to the convoy of the Union Minister, neither they create any ruckus. They just stood outside the Airport with banners and posters in their hands. This halt was not scheduled for Gadkari and the Chief Minister was caught off-guard.

The farmers told Gadkari all about their grievance and also alleged that Chief Minister and the Deputy Commissioner, Kullu, weren’t even ready to listen to them. To discuss the matter, there and then Gadkari called for the Chief Minister, who rushed towards the spot from his vehicle.

Watch What Happened When Gadkari Spoke to Agitating Farmers

In the video, the farmers can be heard telling the Union Minister that they are BJP supporters and workers. Later, they were also seen chanting “Jai Shri Ram” for the Union Minister. They can also be heard saying that despite their party being in power at both Centre and the State, there is no hearing. This added to the humiliation for the Chief Minister as the party supporters were not at all satisfied with him.

The video also shows the Chief Minister losing temper when the farmers repeatedly kept saying that they had been agitating for the last four years over the same grievance. He was seen swiftly turning towards farmers with a hostile gesture of warning. The farmers were heard retaliating to this gesture and saying “ Gussa to hame bhi aa rha hai Thakur sahb (we are also angry Mr Thakur)”.

At the same time, farmers expressed their gratitude towards the Union Minister for stopping the vehicle himself and attending them. “This is his (Gadkari) greatness that he saw us and bothered to listened to us,” a farmer later said while speaking to the media.

The situation put both politicians in contrast while dealing with the same situation related to the people’s grievance.

This video aptly explains why the Chief Minister and his security were annoyed with the local police for allowing people to stand outside the Airport. Though the local police was not responsible for the halt of Gadkari’s convoy, the Chief Minister’s security triggered arguments over it. This argument eventually led to one of the most shameful moments for the HP Police. An IPS slapping another police officer is hard to justify or defend, but taking into account the history of an IPS officer like Gaurav Singh, the question as to what exactly caused him to lose his temper to such an extent that he dared to slap the Chief Minister’s security personal on an occasion where the Union Minister was also present.

Also Read: Who is IPS Gaurav Singh, the Officer in News for Slapping CM Jairam’s Security Personnel

Now, as it’s a well-established fact that the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections were fought with Narendra Modi as the BJP’s face, and so were the state assembly polls of Himachal Pradesh in 2017. Owing to the media and the IT cells, the very name and face of PM Narendra Modi won a majority for BJP not only in Himachal but in other states too. Therefore, the situation couldn’t get any worse for a Chief Minister who is serving his first term when the slogan “ Hamara PM Kaise Ho, Gadkari Jaisa Ho” was raised by the people.

What message this entire episode would send to the BJP High Command about Chief Minister’s capacity to contain the distress amongst its own party supporters and handle the officers? This doesn’t end here. The opposition has alleged that this incident clearly proves that the Chief Minister doesn’t have a hold on his officers, as well as, party sympathizers, especially from the farming community. The opposition is citing the current incident as an example of BJP’s anti-farmer attitude. Pertinent to mention that the current Centre government is at loggerheads with farmers who had been protesting for nearly one year against the contentious farm laws passed in 2020.

Himachal Kisan Sabha also released a statement in which it alleged that the Chief Minister was desperate to ensure that the farmers do not get to speak to the Union Minister. Further, the results of the recently held elections to the four Municipal Corporations of Himachal Pradesh – Solan, Mandi, Palampur, and Dharamshala-have already dented Jairam Thakur’s term.

Ahead of the by-polls in the state, the factionalism in the party is already a challenge for Thakur.

Last but not the least, the treatment given to bureaucrats and IPS officers by politicians which results in such ugly, unruly situations like these has also become a topic of debate.

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India’s Revised Vaccination Policy and Supreme Court’s Role Behind This Change in Approach

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Shimla-Free vaccine to all Indian citizens above 18 years of age would be available from 21st June onwards, the Government of India announced yesterday. The Centre has also announced that private hospitals would not be able to levy arbitrary charges for vaccination and the rate would be fixed. The government also rolled back its policy for procurement of vaccines, which was under heavy criticism not only from the opposition but also from the Supreme Court of India.

Though, the Centre claimed that the roll-back was a result of the demands raised by state governments, but some believe this decision came right after harsh judicial scrutiny of the government’s previous policy by the Supreme Court, whose initiation is being lauded by the citizens of India amid this pandemic.

“Many states came forward with a demand for reconsideration of the vaccination strategy and for bringing back the system that was there before 1st May,” the Centre said while defending the rollback.

Also, the Centre was even objecting to the court’s jurisdiction in matters related to policymaking and had termed it as an encroachment on the jurisdiction of the executive. However, very mindful of its jurisdiction, the court had mitigated this allegation of the Centre by explaining how policymaking is subject to judicial scrutiny. The court made the Centre aware of the ‘dialogic judicial review’, where the Court can question the executive and demand justifications from it over non-conformity of a policy to the constitutional rights.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court had grilled the Union government over its faulty and discriminatory policy as states were left on their own for the procurement of vaccines. In its orders passed on May 31, a bench comprising of Justice DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat came down heavily upon the central government. The bench had termed the policy approach as “arbitrary and irrational”  because it did not provide free vaccination for the 18-44 year age group.  The bench had sought clarification on policy and dual pricing in which states were being made to procure vaccines directly from the manufactures and were invariably paying more for vaccines while the Centre procured the same vaccines at lower rates.

“Due to the changing nature of the pandemic, we are now faced with a situation where the 18-44 age group also needs to be vaccinated, although priority may be retained between different age groups on a scientific basis. Hence, due to the importance of vaccinating individuals in the 18-44 age group, the policy of the Central Government for conducting free vaccination themselves for groups under the first 2 phases, and replacing it with paid vaccination by the State/UT Governments and private hospital for the persons between 18-44 years is prima facie arbitrary and irrational” a bench observed while passing an order on May 31, 2021 concerning a Suo moto case on “Re-Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic”.

Further, the court had also expressed concerns over the digital divide which would make accessing vaccine equally difficult for a large section through online registration.

Earlier, in its orders passed on April 30, the bend had observed that this policy approach would be “detrimental to the right to life and health”. The bench had also observed that this policy requires rethinking, as it needs to be formulated in conformity with the provisions of Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The bench aggressively went on to order the government to share all details of the vaccine purchase and distribution, as well as provide information on how the budget allocated for the vaccination (₹35,000 Crores ) was used.

Provisions of the New Vaccination Policy

  • Procurement of 25 per cent vaccinations which was earlier with states will now be undertaken by the Government of India.
  • The government of India will buy 75 per cent of the total vaccines produced and will provide it to the states free of cost. No state government would be spending anything on vaccines.
  • The system of 25 per cent vaccines being procured directly by the private hospitals will continue. Private hospitals can’t charge more than 150 rupees service charge over the decided price of the vaccines.

The Centre said that this policy would be rolled out in two weeks.

“In two weeks, the Centre and states will make necessary preparations as per new guidelines,” the Centre announced yesterday.

Till today, more than 23 Crore vaccine doses have been administered in the country.

To ward off the embarrassment caused by such a contentious policy which was not conforming with the constitutional rights of the citizens, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, without referring to the judicial review, blamed it on the state governments.

“As the corona cases started declining, questions arose about the lack of choice for states and some people questioned why the Central government is deciding everything,” he said.

“India’s vaccination program was run mostly under the Central government. Free vaccination for all was moving forward and people were showing discipline in getting vaccinated when their turn came, amid all these demands for decentralization of vaccination were raised, the decision about priority to certain age groups was raised. Many types pressures were exerted and certain sections of media took it as a campaign,” the PM said.

But with that being said the role of the judiciary in making the government roll back its policy in the interest of the people is being lauded as the victory of judicial review. Also, it has attracted positive response for the apex court which was being alleged of evading several matters related to the public interest under the pressure from the current political regime.

Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana Extended  Till Deepawali.

In another major announcement, the Central government announced the extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana till Deepawali.

As per the announcement, till November, 80 crore people will continue to get a decided amount of free food grain every month.

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