Supreme Court: Are farmers protected from Covid-19?

The SC asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, whether the protesting farmers are protected from the spread of COVID

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed apprehensions that the gathering of thousands of protesting farmers at Delhi borders could lead to the "same problem" that arose due to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation here in March last and asked the Centre whether the protesters are "protected" against the spread of COVID-19.

It also said the guidelines to contain the coronavirus should be followed.

The apex court was hearing a plea seeking various reliefs including a CBI probe into the matter related to assembly of people at Anand Vihar Bus Terminal and the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizammudin Markaz amid the pandemic and lockdown.

“You must tell us what is happening. The same problem is going to arise in farmers' agitation. I do not know if farmers are protected from COVID. So, the same problem is going to arise. It is not that everything is over,” said Chief Justice S A Bobde, who was heading the bench which also comprised Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

The top court asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, whether the protesting farmers are protected from the spread of COVID. The COVID-19 guidelines include wearing of face masks at public places and social distancing norms.

Mehta replied, “Certainly not”.

Mehta said he will file a report within two weeks on what has been done and what needs to be done.

The protests by the farmers at the border points in the national capital demanding the repeal of the three new farm laws began on November 28.

The plea in the top court filed by advocate Supriya Pandita has alleged that the Delhi police had failed to control the gathering of people at Anand Vihar Bus Terminal last year during the lockdown.

Advocate Om Prakash Parihar, appearing for the petitioner, Thursday told the bench that the police has not said anything about the whereabouts of Nizamuddin Markaz chief Maulana Saad.

The bench told Parihar, “Why are you interested in one person? We are on the issue of COVID. Why do you want controversy? We are interested that COVID guidelines should be followed”.

The apex court said it is trying to ensure that COVID-19 does not spread and the guidelines are followed.

“Issue notice. In the meantime, respondents shall file their reply affidavit, if any,” the bench said in its order.

During a media briefing on April 18 last year, the Union Health ministry had said that of the 14,378 coronavirus infections reported in the country till that date, 4,291 cases in 23 states and union territories are linked to the Markaz event held in Delhi's Nizamuddin area in March.

The Centre had on June 5 last year told the top court that the probe into assembly of people at Anand Vihar Bus Terminal in east Delhi during nationwide lockdown and the Tablighi Jamaat event is being conducted on a day-to-day basis by Delhi Police and there was no need for CBI investigation.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had earlier given the details of steps taken by the Delhi Police which is making all efforts to complete the investigation within the time frame to submit the charge sheet in the trial court.

It had told the top court that due to fake media reports and circulation of certain misinformation in the areas of Delhi, thousands of migrants gathered at Anand Vihar Bus terminal and Ghazipur border areas here on March 28 last.

On the steps taken by the Delhi Police, the MHA in its affidavit had said that the probe in the Markaz matter is being conducted on a day-to-day basis, in accordance with the mandate of law and all efforts are being made to finalize investigation and submit a report under section 173 CrPC (charge sheet) before the trial court in a time bound manner.

The MHA had alleged that Maulana Saad and others had allowed a huge gathering to assemble inside a closed premise, over a protracted period of time, without any semblance of social distances or provision of masks and sanitizers and have caused a situation where a highly infectious disease such as COVID-19 may spread and threaten the lives of inmates.

It had said that a case was lodged against Maulana Saad under various provisions including The Epidemic Disease Act, Disaster Management Act and sections of the IPC with crime branch police station and during the investigation of the case, charges under the Foreigners Act was also added.

The Ministry had pointed out that there was no negligence or delay in dealing with the Markaz incident and police had on March 21 contacted the authorities of Tablighi Jamaat Headquarters and apprised them of the COVID-19 situation and was directed to send the foreigners back to their respective countries and Indians to their native places.

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