The Karnataka High Court has today expressed its dissatisfaction towards the role of both Central and State governments in enforcement of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that have been issued to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
A division Bench comprising of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Vishwajit Shetty made the observation while hearing a petition contending that the National Directives for COVID-19 Management issued by the MHA are not being followed in Karnataka.
The Court after being informed that directions and SOPs for social distancing were issued by the Commissioner of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike and DG-IGP of the Bengaluru Police on behalf of the State government, questioned as to who authorised to issue orders under Section 24 of the Disaster Management Act and who authorised the BBMP commissioner to issue such orders.
Section 24 of the Disaster Management Act talk about the powers and functions of State Executive Committee in the event of threatening disaster situation.
According to the Bench, the advisories issued by Commissioner of BBMP do not state that those advisories have been issued by the Central or State Government, and to attract punishment for obstruction under the Disaster Management Act, the requirement of compliance with directions given by or on behalf of Central Government or the State government or the National executive committee or the State executive committee or the District Authority needs to be adhered to.
The Bench while observing that the State Government cannot be casual and play with lives of people, noted that the power of the state executive cannot be delegated to the BBMP in this manner, and the state will have to issue the direction and direct the department to comply with it.
“Temples are thrown open, Malls are thrown open. However, there is no machinery in place to check all this” , the Court observed.
Additional Soliticor General MB Nargund submitted before the Court that the SOPs of 4th June have not mentioned that the powers under Section 10 of the Disaster Management Act have been exercised.
The Bench questioned the Counsel as to why a simple order specifying that directions are being issued under Disaster Management Act been passed, and an argument for violators of these SOPs kept open. The Court then directed them to pass a separate order under Section 51 of Disaster Management Act.
The Court in its last hearing, had observed that several provisions in SOPs issued by MHA had no penal provisions for its breach, had asked the Central and state governments to place on record how can the breach of guidelines in SOPs be penalized and provisions of SOPs be made legally enforceable.
-India Legal Bureau