Meghalaya High Court admits PIL for ensuring effective measures by govt to contain COVID-19

SHILLONG, Apr 16: A division bench the Meghalaya High Court on Thursday admitted a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) for effective monitoring of the measures undertaken by the state government to contain the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak and to mitigate the plight of the citizens of Meghalaya.

The PIL was filed by the High Court of Meghalaya Bar Association, in which an additional affidavit has also been filed today itself, by the petitioners to bring on record subsequent developments and the crisis that had emerged, while disposing of the mortal remains of (L) Dr. John Sailo Ryntathiang who fell victim to this dreaded disease.

This matter was taken up via video conferencing.

K. Paul, vice president of the High Court Bar Association raised extreme urgent concerns with regard to the events that have transpired since April 13 when the first positive COVID-19 case was detected in Shillong which had led to the to the death of senior doctor, and flagged the incompetent manner in which the State authorities handled the situation.

He submitted that another aspect which has shocked the conscience of the society is the incident that occurred on April 15 wherein the local bodies prevented the cremation and burial of the senior doctor who had expired.

He submits that appropriate directions were necessary to be issued to meet such situations and that the said actions of the local bodies were in violation of law and that the said persons are liable to be punished accordingly.

A. Kumar, Advocate General appearing on behalf of the state respondents on the aspect of the denial of cremation and burial, submitted that the same was extremely unfortunate, but that however, other organisations have since come forward with offers to allow such burial or cremation.

He lastly submitted that keeping in view of the many Supreme Court directions and the prevailing circumstances, the State is doing its utmost best to handle the situation, and that the prayer as made out in the petition is untenable.

Meanwhile, the High Court directed that the State Health authorities shall immediately ensure the testing of the primary contacts and also in the event, the same is not possible to be conducted immediately, to place the persons who have voluntarily come forward in quarantine, till such test has been conducted and to render adequate assistance as required.

The High Court also said that the state authorities are to ensure that adequate assistance is rendered to the patients who are stranded in Bethany Hospital and also who are housed in the other quarantine facility and that adequate food and water be made available for which the help of the civil society can also be availed to procure the same for distribution.

It also stated that the state government is also to ensure that personnel are available with adequate personal protection to receive the food packets for distribution to the inmates.

“The State authorities are to strictly follow the guidelines on dead body management as prescribed by the Government of India and by the World Health Organization (For short ‘WHO’) such as the supply of PPE’s to the detailed staff, apart from notifying the same for the information of the general public for their sensitisation,” the High Court said.

The High Court also said that any person, local body/Durbar Shnong or organisation which obstructs the state authorities in the control of the pandemic or any matter connected thereto, such as dead body management, cremation and burial shall be dealt with in accordance with law and cases to be registered under appropriate provisions of law.

The Court also directed that the state authorities shall sensitise the public especially where the cremation of burial grounds are situated to avoid any further unfortunate incident as had been witnessed on April 15.

“The State authorities to take stern action for enforcement of the Rule of Law, especially in the light of the said incidents on 15.04.2020 wherein public had broken the curfew and all social distancing norms, in coming out in protest against the proposed cremation. To adhere to the procedure of handling COVID-19 suspects and infected cases as contained in the protocol dated 25.03.2020,” the Meghalaya High Court said.

While, admitting the PIL, the Meghalaya High Court said that it is not adversarial litigation and the concerns raised are genuine and serious.

The High Court stated that the subsequent events after the detection of the first case and the unfortunate demise of the senior doctor, the court cannot remarked the inept way the issue was handled by the State authorities and the conduct of the Local Bodies/Durbar Shnongs which has shocked the conscience of every right thinking individual.

“It is noted that the State authorities have reposed immense faith on these Durbar Shnongs to ease the troubles of the citizens in this crisis, but what was seen was these two Durbar Shnongs of Nongpoh and Jhalupara by their actions and conduct, instead of being part of the solution were adding to the problems,” the High Court said.

The next hearing in the case will be held on April 21.

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