New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday, July 20, pulled up the Kerala government for relaxing COVID-19 norms in the state, witnessing a spike in COVID-19 cases, in the wake of Bakrid (Eid-ul-Azha), which will be celebrated on Wednesday, July 21.
The Kerala government had earlier announced the easing of relaxations to allow all business establishments, selling various kinds of merchandise, to operate from 7 am to 8 pm from July 18-20 in category A, B and C areas. In D category areas, which have the highest number of COVID-19 cases, shops have been allowed to function on July 19.
The court termed these relaxations “wholly uncalled for”, and said that the state government was giving in to pressure from traders, disclosing a sorry state of affairs.
Directing the state government to “heed the Right to Life”, the apex court also warned the Kerala government that it will take action if the easing of curbs leads to further spread of the virus and this is brought before it by any person.
“To give in to pressure groups (of traders) so that the citizenry of India is laid bare to a nationwide pandemic discloses a sorry state of affairs. Even otherwise, assurances from traders and nothing more do not inspire any confidence in the people of India or this court,” a bench of Justices R.F. Nariman and B.R. Gavai said.
“We direct the Kerala government to give heed to Right to Life enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution,” it said.
The bench was hearing an application raising the issue of the Bakrid relaxations in Kerala. The apex court had last week taken cognisance on its own of media reports on the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to allow the Kanwar Yatra amid the Covid pandemic.
The apex court referred to a paragraph in the affidavit filed by the Kerala government and said it disclosed that the state has given in to associations of traders, which made a representation that they have stocked up goods for the purpose of Bakrid.
“What is extremely alarming is the fact that in Category D where infection rates are the highest, a full day of relaxation has been granted,” it said.
“We state that this affidavit discloses a sorry state of affairs as has been stated above and does not in real manner safeguard the Right to Life and Health guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution,” it said.
“We may also indicate that if as a result of this (relaxations) if any untoward spread of COVID-19 takes place, any member of the public may approach this court after which the court will take action accordingly. The IA is disposed of,” the top court said.
The bench had on Monday asked the Kerala government to file its response during the day on the application against the three-day relaxation in Covid restrictions in the state in view of Bakrid on Wednesday.
Relaxations only to address economic woes of traders: Kerala government
In its affidavit filed in the top court, the state government has said that curbs and resultant economic slowdown have put the population in a lot of misery.
“The traders were expecting that the Bakrid sales will alleviate their misery to a certain extent. They have stocked up the goods for this purpose much early. The organisation of traders started to agitate against the stringent curbs implemented in the LSGIs (local self government institutions) and declared that they will open shops all over the state flouting the regulations,” the affidavit said.
It said the opposition political parties also raised the traders’ issue in the public domain and demanded more relaxations in the curbs to give some respite to the traders and to allow some economic activities in the state.
“The chief minister held discussion with the organisations and heard their demands on July 16, 2021. The traders assured that opening shops will be strictly following COVID protocols and they are ready to follow the additional regulations ordered by the state, if any,” it said.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had announced the concessions at a press conference on July 17. In view of Bakrid (Eid-ul-Azha) being celebrated on July 21, textiles, footwear shops, jewellery, fancy stores, shops selling home appliances and electronic items, all types of repairing shops and shops selling essential items shall be allowed to open on July 18-20 from 7 AM to 8 PM in category A, B and C areas, he said.
In D category areas, these shops can function only on July 19, he had said. The areas have been categorised based on test positivity rates.
On Monday, the top court closed the matter related to the Kanwar Yatra in Uttar Pradesh and asked the authorities to ensure that any untoward incident directly affecting the lives of the public shall be looked upon sternly and prompt action would be taken immediately.
(With PTI inputs)