The Supreme Court on Tuesday rapped the Kerala government over relaxations granted for Bakrid in areas with high COVID-19 positivity rate, saying it is “wholly uncalled for”, adding that to give in to pressure groups so that the citizenry of India is laid bare to a nationwide pandemic discloses a “sorry state of affairs.” The court also observed that pressure groups of all kinds, religious or otherwise, cannot in any manner interfere with the most precious Fundamental Right to Life of all the citizens of the country. Eid-ul-Adha, also known as Bakrid, will be celebrated on Wednesday.
It later directed the LDF-ruled government to give heed to Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution and follow the law laid down in its orders passed in Uttar Pradesh Kanwar Yatra matter.
While hearing the Uttar Pradesh Kanwar Yatra matter on July 16, the top court had observed that all sentiments, including religious, are subservient to the Right to Life.
A bench of Justices R F Nariman and B R Gavai also said that if as a result of the July 17 notification, which declared certain relaxations in view of Bakrid, any untoward spread of COVID-19 takes place then any member of the public may bring this to the notice of the apex court which will take necessary action against those who are responsible.
The court noted it is “extremely alarming” that in category D areas, where infection is the highest at 15 per cent, a full day of relaxation was granted in Kerala on Monday.
“The aforesaid facts disclose an alarming state of affairs. To give in to pressure groups so that the citizenry of India is laid bare to a nationwide pandemic discloses a sorry state of affairs,” it said.
“Even otherwise, homilies such as ‘as far as possible’ and assurances from traders without anything more, do not inspire any confidence in the people of India or this court."
The apex court noted that the affidavit filed by Kerala discloses a “sorry state of affairs” and does not in any real manner safeguard the Right to Life and Health guaranteed to all the citizens of India under Article 21 of the Constitution.
“It may also be pointed out that the relaxation for one day to a category D area was wholly uncalled for,” it said, adding, “In these circumstances, we direct the state of Kerala to give heed to Article 21 read with Article 144 of the Constitution of India and follow the law laid down in our orders in the Uttar Pradesh case i.e. July 14, July 16 and July 19, 2021”.
“Also, pressure groups of all kinds, religious or otherwise, cannot in any manner, interfere with this most precious Fundamental Right of all the citizens of India,” the bench said while disposing of an application which had raised the issue of relaxations in Kerala in view of Bakrid festival.
Referring to the July 17 notification, the bench noted that even a cursory look would show that all non-essential shops, which were allowed in only category A area, were now allowed in areas under category A to C.
It noted that as per July 6 notification, areas with average test positivity rate (TPR) of less than 5 per cent were included in category A; those with 5 to 10 per cent were in category B; 10 to 15 per cent in category C and those above 15 per cent were in category D.
“In category D, however, all these shops were allowed on July 19, 2021 i.e. Monday only, despite the most severe restrictions being placed in category D, i.e. throughout the week, the restrictions placed on Saturdays/Sundays were to operate,” the bench said in its order.
It said three paragraphs of the affidavit read with the July 17 notification “disclose that the state government has given in to associations of traders who represented before the government that they have stocked up goods for the purpose of Bakrid very early.” “The state also blithely records that the opening of shops will strictly follow COVID protocols and they are ready to follow additional regulations ordered by the state, if any,” it noted.
The bench said it had heard senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for applicant P K D Nambiar, on Monday and was prima facie of the view that the matter required urgent consideration.
“We, therefore, asked the state to file an affidavit in the course of the day and listed this case this morning in view of the urgency,” it said.
The bench noted it has been stated in the affidavit that, as far as possible, the persons visiting shops and other establishments may belong to those with at least one dose of vaccine/COVID recovered category and follow strict COVID protocols along with the chief minister’s appeal.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had announced the concessions at a press conference on July 17.
In view of Bakrid 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.
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.
On Monday, the top court had closed the matter related to 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.