Hyderabad: Concerned over the rising number of Covid-19 cases and detention of virus on zoo animals, the Telangana High Court on Wednesday directed the state government to impose additional restrictive measures besides extending the night curfew and imposing a weekend lockdown so as to flatten the curve in the state. The court directed the state government to conduct a review meeting before the night curfew ends on May 8.
The division bench of the High Court comprising Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy, which sat on Wednesday to monitor the situation though the court is in summer vacation, asked the government to be ‘dynamic’ to deal with the situation.
“Our instructions to the government for the last several weeks to show some heed and to increase Covid testing have been like water off a duck’s back. The government is continuously reducing testing since the last week from 92,000 to 70,000. This automatically shows a decrease in the number of infected persons. By that, you are saying there is a fall in Covid cases. This is not correct,” the bench said and noted, “Testing at private centres is static but is decreasing at government centres.”
The court firmly directed the government to conduct one lakh Covid tests per day, as long as the situation prevailed, as well as deploy vans to conduct tests in the 186 micro-containment zones.
Justice Kohli brushed aside the contention of Dr G Srinivasa Rao, Director of Public Health, who said that people were not coming to the 1,100 testing centres across the state.
“There is no logic in your contentions. We came across some news reports that there were long queues and people were being sent back due to lack of testing kits. People are thronging the testing centres after seeing the piling up of bodies at burial grounds and crematoriums,” the Chief Justice said.
“If people do not come to testing centres, you go to the people, where we are seeing a large number of people in markets, malls and other public places in the afternoon time,” Kohli said.
Meanwhile, Senior Counsel L. Ravichander brought to the notice of the court that in some testing centres in the GHMC area, only 20 tests are being conducted per day whereas more people are waiting in queues.
LIMIT ON GATHERINGS
Expressing deep concern and dismay over the government order (GO) of November 16, 2020, which permits 200 persons to congregate by following Covid-19 norms, and empowering collectors, SPs and heads of local bodies to permit congregations, the High Court said it would be unsafe in the current situation.
The court directed the government to issue a fresh GO in this regard limiting the gathering to 50 persons at marriages and 20 at funerals, regardless of whether it is open or closed premises. This GO should be issued within 24 hours, the court said.
The High Court also directed the government to examine the laws to issue orders to seize vehicles of those not wearing face masks properly. Apart from imposing a Rs 1,000 fine on violators, their vehicles should be seized for at least 48 hours as a deterrent, it said.
Justice Kohli asked Director General of Police M. Mahendar Reddy, who appeared before the court in virtual mode on being ordered, about the authority of the force to seize vehicles of those who are not wearing the masks properly.
The DGP replied that the police had no such authority. He submitted that the police were taking over vehicles of those failing drunk drive tests only in view of the driver’s safety. “If any family member of that person comes, we hand over the vehicle,” he submitted.
Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy suggested that the government, as per the Hyderabad City Police Act and Article 162, can give powers to the police to confiscate vehicles.
Explaining the rules in the Disaster Management Act, senior counsel L. Ravichander said that during the pandemic, the government could issue any order to restrict or empower authorities to even seize the vehicle under Section 18.
The High Court directed the DGP to book organisers, hosts, owners of function halls and other premises who violate Covid-19 such as social distancing or allowing more than the permitted number of patrons. The court directed police, municipal and revenue authorities to conduct surprise inspections, where the congregations take place.
The Chief Justice directed the DGP to create help centres at Covid-designated government hospitals as well as at private hospitals where the police in coordination with self-help groups can reach out to patients and people in distress.
Considering the concern of senior advocate Mir Masood Khan to told the court about the violations of Covid protocols during the shopping for Ramzan and spiritual gatherings at Nampally, Afzalgunj, Madina and Charminar, the High Court directed the police to step in to control the gatherings and congregations. The court asked the authorities to implement strict rules to prevent this. Masood Khan said any type of spiritual meeting was to be prohibited.
Responding to inputs from advocates about exorbitant charges at private hospitals and black marketing of life-saving drugs, the court directed the medical and health department to lay down guidelines regarding uniform rates for life saving drugs, oxygen and other tests including beds.
The court also directed Advocate General B.S. Prasad to take necessary steps to close all zoos as the media had reported that wild animals were affected with the Coronavirus.
It directed the government to ensure that all hospitals update information on availability of beds. Several counsels pointed out that there were differences on the availability of beds in hospitals from what was being displayed.
The court was not happy with the non-submission of minutes of the meetings of the expert body to Covid-19. Directing that these should be submitted, the court adjourned the hearings to May 13.