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Staying Cool During COVID19: Delhi HC Looks At Good Old Pedestal Fans

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The Delhi High Court has in principle decided to procure sufficient quantity of pedestal fans/wall fans and install them at appropriate places in all its blocks in order to contain the spread of coronavirus covid-19 after the court resumes post lockdown. 

The Delhi High Court has constituted a committee led by Justice Hima Kohli, Justice Vipin Sanghi, Justice Rajiv Shakdher and Justice Talwant Singh for preparation of ‘Graded Action Plan’ for Courts functioning after the lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. The decision to go in for the traditional way of keeping cool comes in the wake of reports suggesting that air conditioning may circulate infectious droplets containing SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the novel coronavirus.

Last week, the Delhi High Court has sought a response of the Centre and the AAP government on a petition that no centrally air-conditioned building, including courts, be used without taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar issued notice to the Centre, the Delhi government and the Registrar of the High Court seeking their stand on the application moved by a lawyer.

On April 28, a meeting was held by the Committee to consider the matter regarding assessment and evaluation of whether AC Plant can be run in the High Court post lifting of lockdown and if so, steps required to be taken so that circulated air does not become a reason for the spread of coronavirus. 

The Committee headed by Justice Hima Kohli considered the report submitted by Mr. Vikas Tiwari, Junior Engineer (E), PWD and Sh. Sanjeev Rastogi, Chief Engineer, PWD and Sh. Vikas Tiwari who briefed the members of the committee about the various options for the purpose of running of Centrally Air-conditioning plant. According to their inputs and reports, even if the Court incurs massive expenditure on procuring and installing Ultra Violet Germicide Irradiation devices, there would not be complete certainty of eradication of all the virus, germs and particles including COVID-19. They apprised the court that such device can only disinfect the air received in AHU for re-circulation and if any COVID-19 infected person enters the area having Central Air-Conditioning, there is still likelihood that the particles of such virus, exhaled by such person, may remain airborne and may, in turn, infect others. It has been informed by them that even in the Supreme Court, the Central Air-conditioning System has not been switched on so far and, therefore, they suggest that instead of investing huge amount in procuring these devices, whose utility is still not amply clear, the court may rather procure sufficient quantity of pedestal fans/wall fans and to install them at appropriate places in all the Blocks. 

The engineers informed the Committee that they would try to find out whether previously installed hooks, meant for ceiling fans, are still available so that they can be re-installed. 

The Committee resolved, “let PWD conduct a survey in this regard and submit a proposal regarding the required quantity of all such types of fans in every block. Since the windows and doors of Court Building may be required to be left open for proper circulation of air during the working hours, PWD shall ensure that all such windows have proper net/mesh so that no insect/mosquitoes etc. enter inside the court building.”

The committee has directed the Registrar General to get in touch with the Director General of Health Services and Chief Medical Officer and to apprise it about the possibility of conducting pool-testing for Covid-19 for staff and visitors. 

The Second agenda before the committee to assess the working of the present system in the High Court for hearing urgent matters through videoconferencing. 

As many officers and staff officials are coming to the Court for the purpose of facilitating video-conferencing and discharging other administrative duties/responsibilities, it was resolved that staff officials should,  come by way of rotation and not consecutively. It be also ensured that they maintain safe distance from one another and continue to use sanitizers, masks and gloves. 

Registrar General shall seek inputs from all the other concerned Registrars and get prepared a flow chart describing as how any file, whether e-file or physical file, moves from one hand to the other before it reaches the Judges holding courts through videoconferencing, and also till the orders are uploaded on the website. This flow chart should reflect per hour productivity of each dealing hand involved with the assigned tasks.

In order to further contain the spread of COVID19, it was resolved that all those advocates, who visit this court or courts subordinate to it for ‘video-conferencing hearing’ need not wear coats, bands and ties. It has also been resolved that, to facilitate quick release of any accused/UTP, copy of the bail order passed by this Court be also transmitted through email to Director General (Prison), Delhi immediately by the concerned official. Every District & Sessions Judge, in coordination with the local Bar, would create facility for video conferencing in their respective District/Complex, if not already in place. It will cater to those Advocates/Litigants whose matters have been listed for hearing but who are not in a position to handle Video Conferencing from their respective homes/offices.

The third agenda before the Committee is Directions for Family Courts

The committee under the chairmanship of Ms justice Hima Kholi issued below mention directions to Family Courts of Delhi on 28.04.2020 :-

1). Family courts would start taking up the matters in which arguments have already been heard and the order/ judgment has been reserved, shall be given priority and the order/Judgment be pronounced in such cases. It be ensured that such matter is reflected in the Cause List in advance for intimation of all concerned and auto-generated SMS is also send through CIS.

2). Fresh petition under Section 13-B (2) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 be permitted to be filed only through e-filing module of CIS as developed by e-committee of Supreme Court of India and conducted through video conferencing 

3). In case, the lockdown is extended, all the matters, except for petitions u/s 13-B (2) Hindu Marriage Act and final argument matters of more than 5 years old cases, be adjourned en bloc.

4). Efforts be made to dispose of all such final arguments matters. Each side be asked to send point-wise written submissions not exceeding five pages in pdf format. Counsel shall file proper index indicating, inter alia, the points on which any authority is cited. The relevant paragraphs of such authorities be clearly mentioned. Proper and complete citations be also stated in the written submissions. The Court may, wherever found appropriate and necessary, hear oral arguments through video- conferencing, with advance notice to counsel/parties.

5). In the next phase, urgent applications, whether in pending cases or otherwise, seeking maintenance, custody, visitation rights, petitions u/s 13-B (1) Hindu Marriage Act and exparte matters shall be taken up through videoconferencing.

6). Filing of non-urgent/routine matters shall also be permitted through e-filing module with the rider that these matters would be taken up for hearing as and when the normal and regular functioning of the courts resumes.

The Registrar General, Mr. Manoj Jain today has written a letter in terms of the above meeting to District & Sessions Judge (HQs), The District & Sessions Judge-cum-Special Judge (PC Act) (CBI) Rouse Avenue Court Complex, All the District & Sessions Judges, Principal Judge (HQs) (Family Courts)  and  All Principal Judges (Family Courts).

Its stated in the letter that:-

Despite the fact that the functioning of courts is suspended during the lockdown, there is every attempt to alleviate the hardship of litigants by hearing urgent matters. All such hearings, as far as possible, need to be conducted through videoconferencing only. 

Every District, in coordination with the local Bar, is required to immediately create proper facility for video conferencing in respective District/Complex, if not already in place. This facility will cater to those Advocates/Litigants whose matters have been listed for hearing but who are not in a position to handle Video Conferencing from their respective homes/offices. 

The compliance report of videoconference facility be sent to the Registrar at the earliest.

If videoconferencing is not feasible in a given case, the crucial norms of social distancing be strictly adhered to during court-room hearings. It be also ensured that there is no crowding even in the corridors and other areas of the court-complex.

Sufficient number of judicial officers be deputed for hearing urgent matters to ensure quick disposal and prevent advocates and litigants from unnecessarily waiting in the court complex.

Registrar requested all Judges to be in constant touch with the respective Bar Associations of your District/Complex and to make sure that the Lawyers’ Chamber Blocks in the District Court Complex remain closed till further orders.

It was also directed that the advocates appearing in the District Courts need not wear coats, bands and ties till further orders.

However, the Advocates shall adhere to the remaining dress code as prescribed under Advocates Act, 1961. The respective Bar Associations of  District/Complex be informed in this regard. 

Judges may also issue necessary directions for relaxation in this regard for staff officials.

It has also been directed that the cases, in which arguments have already been heard and the order/ judgment has been reserved, be given precedence. 

-India Legal Bureau

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