New Delhi: Hours after the Allahabad high court directed the Uttar Pradesh government to order a weeklong lockdown in Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur Nagar and Gorakhpur in view of the rise in COVID-19 cases, the state government’s additional chief secretary of Information, Navneet Sehgal, said the government would not be ordering a complete lockdown.
Hearing a public interest litigation filed pleading for better conditions at quarantine centres and for improved treatment for COVID-19 positive patients, a bench of Justices Siddhartha Varma and Ajit Kumar noted that:
“…[P]utting a lockdown to public activities is a matter purely in the nature of policy decision by the concerned government
and it was in keeping with this principle that we in our last order dated 13.04.2021, had directed the government to think about restricting public movement to break the chain of Covid infection.”
However, the court noted that in its affidavit filed on April 19, “nothing concrete has been placed before us. No concrete plan has yet been chalked out”. Although some efforts were been made to convert some private hospitals COVID-19 hospitals, the court said that their facilities were not upto mark.
The April 17 government guidelines, too, the court said, did not tackle the crisis aptly.
Taking a dim view of the arrangements made by the government, the court noted:
“In any civilised society if public health system is not able to meet the challenges and people die for want of proper medication, it means there has been no proper development. Health and education go side-byside. Those in the helm of affairs of governance are to be blamed for the present chaotic health problems and more so when there is a democracy which means a government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
Listing out statistics on the five large cities and noting how even if 10% of the population is affected, it would seriously stand to jeopardise wellbeing, the court said:
“In such above situation, the night curfew in the name of Corona Curfew and the weekend Curfew are nothing else but a mere eyewash. It was probably an effort to show that our last order had been taken care of. We are however, not satisfied at all.”
Accordingly, the court directed the government to order a complete lockdown until April 26 in the five cities, barring all social functions, functioning of educational institutions, malls and eateries, religious activities, and public movement, with exception only to essential activities and institutions.
However, according to a press release issued by the ACS Sehgal, the Uttar Pradesh government is unlikely to follow the direction of the court.
“The Uttar Pradesh government has taken several steps and is going to take more steps to contain the situation but it is necessary to protect the livelihood of poor people as well. Thus, the cities will not be going under complete lockdown right away. People have been closing down functions in many places of their own volition as it is,” Sehgal’s release says.
The Allahabad high court bench also observed that the city lockdown at this stage would also provide some respite to frontline medical and health workers.
In the strongly worded order, the bench also observed that conducting the panchayat polls amidst the health crisis was a decision that invited not just criticism but also punitive action.
The second phase of the Uttar Pradesh panchayat polls took place in 20 districts, with 3.48 lakh candidates in the fray for over 2.23 lakh posts.
“We must record our displeasure the way government and the State Election Commission proceeded to hold election forcing teachers and other government staff to perform duties exposing themselves to the threat of pandemic that looms large these days. The police was virtually shifted to polling places giving priority to election above public health,” the court noted.
“Further the photographs of the various places where elections were held definitely show that no social distancing was maintained. Also we find that on many occasions in various political rallies masks were never worn by people. In our considered view action is liable to be taken against the organisers who did not anticipate such eventualities under the Uttar Pradesh Public Health Epidemic Diseases Act, 2020 and/ or any other relevant Act in force. The action taken shall be placed before us on the next date fixed,” the court ordered.
The court’s directions for the lockdown were as follows:
- 1. All establishments be it government or private, except financial institutions and financial departments, medical and health services, industrial and scientific establishments, essential services including municipal functions, and public transport, shall remain closed till 26th April, 2021. The judiciary will however, function on its own discretion;
- 2. All shopping complexes and malls shall remain closed till 26th April, 2021;
- 3. All grocery shops and other commercial shops excluding medical shops, with more than three workers shall remain closed till 26th April, 2021;
- 4. All hotels, restaurants and even the small eating points on thelas etc. shall remain closed till 26th April, 2021;
- 5. All institutions like educational institutions and other institutions relating to other disciplines and activities be it government, semi government or private shall remain closed including for their teachers and instructors and other staff till 26th April, 2021 (this direction is for the whole of Uttar Pradesh);
- 6. No social functions and gatherings including marriage functions shall be permitted till 26th April, 2021. However, in case of already fixed marriages a necessary further permission would have to be taken from the District Magistrate of the concerned district. Gatherings would be limited to 25 persons and the district magistrate concerned shall take decision after giving due consideration to the prevailing situation of the impact of Covid 19 including notification of containment zones in the area where such marriage has to take place;
- 7. All religious activities in public of any kind is directed to remain suspended till 26th April, 2021;
- 8. All religious establishments of any kind are directed to remain closed till 26th April, 2021;
- 9. All hawkers including fruits and vegetable vendors, milk vendors and bread vendors, shall go off the road by 11 AM every day till 26th April, 2021;
- 10. Containment zones shall be notified every day in two leading Hindi and English newspapers having wide circulation in the districts of Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur Nagar/ Dehat and Gorakhpur.
- 11. All public movements on roads would remain restricted completely, subject to above directions. Movements would be only allowed in case of medical help and emergencies.
- 12. In addition to the above directions, we direct the State Government to go robust for implementing the current vaccination programme.
- 20. Let a copy of this order be sent to the Chief Secretary, Government of Uttar Pradesh today itself to enforce our above directions forthwith from the night of 19.04.2021 till 26.04.2021 in the cities of Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur Nagar, and Gorakhpur. Copies of this order shall also be placed before the District Magistrates of the concerned districts.