New Delhi: The Allahabad High Court Monday directed the Uttar Pradesh government to shut down all private and government-run establishments in five cities, imposing a near-lockdown until 26 April.
A bench comprising Justice Siddhartha Varma and Justice Ajit Kumar issued a total of 12 directions for the cities of Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur Nagar and Gorakhpur, in view of the rising cases of Covid-19 in the state. Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest single-day spike in cases, registering 30,596 Sunday.
The court has exempted financial institutions, medical and health services, industrial and scientific establishments, essential services including municipal functions and public transport from the order.
The bench took a grim view of the pandemic and said frontline medical and healthcare workers “are getting exhausted” and that the “recent surge of pandemic COVID-19 has virtually incapacitated all our medical infrastructure” in UP.
“If people die of pandemic in a large number due to paucity of sufficient medical aid it would be the governments to blame which failed to counter the pandemic even after one long year of experience and learning. One would only laugh at us that we have enough to spend on elections and very little to spend on public health,” it noted, adding that “it is a shame that while the Government knew of the magnitude of the second wave it never planned things in advance.”
Therefore, the court said, “It is necessary to take some harsh steps in larger public interest.”
It also clarified that the directions are “nowhere close to a complete lockdown”.
“We are conscious of the fact that before imposing a lockdown the concerned government has to work out various modalities,” the order noted.
However, the bench asked the government to consider imposition of a complete lockdown in the entire state for at least a period of two weeks to arrest the spread of the infection.
The order was passed on a suo motu PIL that was initiated by the court in May last year.
No weddings, religious activities. All malls & shops to be shut
According to the high court’s direction, shopping complexes, malls, hotels, restaurants, small eating joints on thelas, educational institutions and religious establishments will remain closed in the five cities till 26 April.
All grocery shops and other commercial shops with more than three workers will also remain closed. Medical shops have been excluded and will continue to operate.
The court also disallowed social functions or gatherings, including marriage functions.
However, it added that in case marriages have already been arranged, permission from the district magistrate will have to be taken and such a gathering will have to be restricted to 25 people.
All religious public activities of any kind have also been directed to be suspended.
The court added: “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.”
The government is required to notify containment zones every day in two leading Hindi and English newspapers. Additionally, the state government has been directed to “go robust for implementing the current vaccination programme”.
The court also expressed “displeasure” with the state government and the state election commission for holding panchayat elections.
It noted that no masks were worn in several political rallies and places where elections were held. It then said “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”.
It demanded that the action taken on this should be communicated to it on the next date of hearing. The matter will be heard against on 26 April at 11 am.
‘Early testing scheme a farce’
In its order, the court referred to the total beds available in the government hospitals in Prayagraj and noted that the “the medical health infrastructure that the government has developed in the past, can cater to the needs of less than 0.5% of the city population”.
It took note of the government’s plans to increase the numbers of beds in Prayagraj and Lucknow. However, on comparing it to the per day count of Covid cases in the two cities, it asserted that “the current efforts won’t be of much help in terms of required need of medical health in this 21st century of the modern era”.
The court also asserted that the “early testing scheme or plan is a farce”, noting that “only VVIPs are getting (test) reports within 6-12 hours”.
It said that “the entire system would collapse and relief will be confined to VIPs and VVIPs” if “things are not arrested to give some respite to medical and paramedical staff”.
The bench then issued the lockdown directions and said: “We are of the considered view that in given scenario of present time if people are restrained from going outside their homes for a week in the first instance, the current chain of spread of COVID infection can be broken and this will also give some respite to the frontline medical and health workers who would pay more attention to those patients who are already admitted.”
(Edited by Rachel John)
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