Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Should names of COVID infected people be made public?

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Fundamental rights clash: Bombay HC reacts to plea, says zonal containment makes things clear, what more is needed?

A plea was filed before the Bombay High Court seeking disclosure of names of coronavirus patients to enable contact tracing and save others from getting infected. Technically, while this means it would be addressing the fundamental right of a healthy life, it would also go against another fundamental right, the right to privacy (as upheld by the Supreme Court in 2017).

The Bombay High Court on Friday (July 11) has asked for the Maharashta government’s reply on this plea.

A division bench of Justices A A Sayed and M S Karnik asked why should the names of persons who have tested positive for COVID-19 be disclosed as the issue involves privacy rights of such patients.

The public interest petition was filed by a law student, Vaishnavi Gholave, and a farmer from Solapur, Mahesh Gadekar. It has sought disclosure of names of coronavirus patients to enable contact tracing and save others from getting infected.

According to the petition, when the fundamental right to life and right to a healthy life clash with the right to privacy, then the court needs to see which of these rights would advance public morality and interest.

During the hearing, Advocate Aditya Thakkar appeared for the Union government and Vinod Sangvikar appeared on behalf of the petitioners.

The court, however, didn’t agree with the implicit demand and questioned the petitioner as to why they want to know the names of people who have tested positive, when containment zones are already declared by the authorities.

“How far can one go in revealing the identity of the person who has tested positive? Privacy rights are involved. The authorities declare a particular place or building as a containment zone when someone tests positive, so that people are made aware. Isn’t this enough? Why do you want to know who is the person who has tested positive?” the Court asked.

While the Central government submitted that by the guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) the names of COVID-19 positive persons cannot be declared so as to avoid their stigmatisation, the petitioners in response contended that the ICMR guidelines extended only to those who have died due to COVID-19.

The Court has asked the Maharashtra government to respond to the plea  while adjourning the matter for two weeks.

-India Legal Bureau

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