Both the state and central government have been asked to clarify their position on how to legally implement physical distancing norms.

Peoples are not keeping social distance Image for representation
Coronavirus coronavirus Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 17:28

The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday observed that the state government is ‘playing’ with the lives of citizens and added that the state should not be this casual with regards to imposing COVID-19 safety guidelines.

The remarks were passed by a bench led by Chief Justice AS Oka which was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a Bengaluru-based organisation, Letzkit Foundation, over the violation of physical distancing norms in the state.

Both the state and central government have been asked to clarify their position on how to legally implement physical distancing norms.

“The writ petition was filed pointing out that the roadshows and other events are being held by politicians across political parties and that politicians are violating the lockdown norms. We have been asking what action the government is taking to prevent such incidents and also what action they will take once an incident is reported. Without naming any political party, we have submitted photographic evidence of such events and also of the recent funeral of an actor in south Bengaluru where there were multiple violations,” advocate Puttige Ramesh, who appeared on behalf of the petitioner, told TNM.

During the course of hearing, the court asked how the public can report these incidents to the authorities. “Is it only by dialling 100 and also the court asked if the state is taking any action against violators and under which legal provisions,” he added.

He further said that standard operating procedures are issued regularly but there is no mention of under which provisions of this law the competent authority can take penal action. The petitioner’s lawyer said that the HC asked the state government to mention the specific law including sections under which an order is issued. He also said the state government is empowered to issue orders under the Disaster Management Act, it is not clarified if the subordinate officers of the state government can also issue such orders.

In a reply to the court based on the SOPs that were issued, the counsel for the state replied that orders by the state police chief and Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Commissioner were passed according to Section 24 of the State Disaster Management Act.

The HC asked if the state government was allowed to delegate powers to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Commissioner or other state government officers.

On the whole issue, the High Court took a critical view and asked the state government to "set its house in order.”

The case will be heard again on June 19.

Letzkit Foundation had approached the HC seeking concrete measures to maintain physical distancing norms in wake of the relaxations allowed since the lifting of the lockdown. The petition noted that lack of penal provisions in the standard operating procedures issued by the national, state and local governments makes them ineffective. Other irregularities mentioned in the petition include that while directions limit the number of guests in marriages but there are no such restrictions put in place for places of worship.