t is a matter of concern that the judiciary has to intervene and dictate the executive what it needs to do and when. This is valid even to deal with a colossal public health disaster such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Both the Central as well as most State governments wasted the past year and did not focus on building up a fairly good health support system and assisting infrastructure. Due to this the governments’ response has been woefully inadequate when thousands of people are dying and hundreds of thousands getting infected daily during this current second wave. The Centre continued its inept handling after the Delhi High Court, in a recent ruling, gave it a rap on the knuckles for following an opaque policy on the production of the two vaccines – Covaxin and Covishield. The Telangana government has been forced to impose a night curfew in the state from April 20 only a day after the Telangana High Court, headed by Chief Justice Hima Kohli, threatened to pass orders in 48 hours if the state government didn’t take a call on night curfew or weekend lockdown. Similarly, claiming that there are ‘serious issues of importance’, the Bombay High Court has sought response from Center and State while dealing with a PIL that claimed mismanagement in handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
The Allahabad High Court too ordered on April 19 a weeklong lockdown in the badly hit Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur and Gorakhpur districts of Uttar Pradesh till April 26.
It passed the order saying that the rising Covid cases had ‘virtually incapacitated’ the medical infrastructure of UP.
Hearing a PIL on the ‘inhuman’ condition at quarantine centres and the state of Covid treatment, a Division Bench of Justices Ajit Kumar and Siddhartha Varma of the Allahabad High Court said that while ordering a lockdown was the government’s prerogative, it was disappointed by the measures taken since its last order, calling them an eyewash. On April 13 the High Court had asked the state government to look into the viability of a complete lockdown in districts where the Covid situation was alarming.
The insensitive Uttar Pradesh government refused to abide by the HC order and moved the Supreme Court against it instead. The Supreme Court, promptly and within 24 hours, on April 20 has, unsurprisingly, gone in the state’s favour. Although some may term this as government-guided, it must also be appreciated that in a democratic system, HCs should not be instrumental in breaking the glass ceiling. It is improper on the part of Courts to command an elected government to do its biddings, even if it is in greater public interest. The need to control the pandemic, no doubt, should be the first priority for any and every part of the Establishment.
There is not a shred of evidence that disproves the allegation that today the executive in this country stands totally paralysed in the face of the pandemic. It has no idea on how to handle the catastrophe. The bureaucracy, which is the mainstay of governance in India, is at a complete loss to understand how to bring the government apparatus to grapple with and subdue the crisis. It is, therefore, understandable that the judiciary feels, especially the High Courts, that they have to din it into the governments’ ears what the administration has to do.
The Division Bench of the Allahabad HC has laid bare the hollowness of the government’s spurious argument of keeping the economic life stable which is but a ploy to hide its abysmal failure to protect lives and health of the people under attack by the coronavirus. Yet the judiciary must not overstep in its eagerness to be perceived as a do-gooder. The SC overturning the HC’s order seems anti people and still may seem democratic and proper for this time. If the HCs are permitted to carry on with their present sense of being correct and the government is forced to obey, it could set a very dangerous trend for the future. On the other hand, any act of any wing of society or System that proves beneficial to people, especially a large number of citizens, must be considered democratic. Today the demarcating line between democratic and undemocratic acts may have become invisible at many places and instances.