COVID-19 | Cal HC | Interim directions issued for Andaman & Nicobar Islands administration to contain — spread of Coronavirus in the islands; “whether it be the executive, judiciary or civil society, have to work hand in hand to avert any further disaster”

Calcutta High Court: A Division Bench of Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan, CJ and Dipankar Datta, J. issued interim directions for the administration of Andaman and Nicobar Islands with regard to contain the outbreak of Coronavirus in the Islands.

“COVID-19 has been wreaking havoc all over the country. It is indeed unfortunate that the virus has spread even to the Andaman Islands.”

Monitoring Committee was constituted pursuant to the hearing on 28-03-2020 with the purpose to make an overall assessment of all relevant factors including supply of essentials and availability of other support mechanisms for people stationed at the Islands with a direction submit report for the same.

Court has perused the above stated reports.

Further, petitioner has highlighted points of concern that require immediate attention by the administration for the benefit of islanders during the period of lockdown.

Additional Solicitor General appearing for the UT Administration that the situation in islands is under close monitoring by Ministry of Home Affairs as well as PMO and no stone would be left unturned to ensure that such situation does not go beyond control.

He added that,

Instructions to suit the peculiar needs of the islanders are being constantly issued together with supplies of essentials, medicines and health care equipments and officers at all levels posted in the islands, irrespective of status and position, have been engaged in activities to benefit the people they serve.

Monitoring Committee’s report was referred that suggested that ample stocks were there for the next 3 months.

ASG also suggested that petitioner may feel free to share what all is needed at the islands and efforts to bring the results would be taken by the administration.

According to MC report:

  • Stock of essentials are presently available and expected to be available in next couple of days.
  • Overcrowding on the streets of Port Blair would be frustrate the administration attempts to contain the outbreak of COVID-19.
  • Reiterated need for providing essentials to public by home delivery.
  • People with minor illness are receiving medical advice on phone and with major health issues are being allowed access to hospital.
  • Administration is fully geared up to combat any crisis situation

Efforts and initiatives of the administration, in these trying times, need to be appreciated instead of picking bits and pieces of faults/remissness, here and there, in working out the relief programmes and highlighting the same for condemnation.

Court stated that,

“…each one of us, whether it be the executive, the judiciary or the civil society, have to work hand in hand to avert any further disaster, which might spell doom for the islands.”

Although, the administration seems to be conscious of what is required having regard to the ground realities, we feel inclined to make certain interim directions as follows:

(a)‘social distancing’ is non­-negotiable till April 14, 2020 and the administration shall see to it that there is no slip in regard to compliance with such norms;

(b)  the administration shall continue its endeavour to provide home delivery of essentials and medicines

(c)  in areas where such home delivery is not possible, shops may be allowed to be opened for a few hours for restricted functioning;

(d)  supply of drinking water should be ensured in all localities

(e)  access of LPG to households should be ensured commensurate with the supplies at hand;

(f)  transportation of perishables and local produce from the nearby islands

(g)  collection of milk and milk produce by employing adequate hands and vehicles from places near to Port Blair ought to be made operational;

(h) helicopter and shipping services should be utilized only for essential services, which would also include transportation on medical ground;

(i) personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, alcohol based sanitizers, disinfecting chemicals and all such substances required by the healthcare professionals, who are at the forefront of battling the outbreak, must be provided

(j)  proper hygienic conditions in the hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, health centres, etc. have to be ensured at any cost, lest the medical and para­medical staff fall prey to the virus;

(k)  the concern expressed by a member of the staff of the hospital (Annex. 4 to Mr Kabir’s report) must be looked into seriously and remedial action taken, for, if suspects are not appropriately tested to avoid creating panic, the healthcare workers would be exposed to the dangers of the virus which is not at all desirable;

(l)  senior citizens being most vulnerable to the attack of the virus, their other ailments, need to be checked and kept under control

(m) administration shall take special care to ensure that there is no spread of the virus amongst the vulnerable local indigenous communities

(n)  local authorities may not ignore the need to clear waste and garbage, for, as and when they pile up,

(o)  measures to sanitize public areas such as bus terminals, jetties, shops (opened to provide essential supplies) as well as petrol pumps, should be undertaken at such regular intervals as the administration deems appropriate;

(p)  banks and financial institutions may be kept open, albeit with restricted access, to facilitate transactions of emergent nature;

(q)  authorities concerned shall be directed by the administration to ensure uninterrupted internet connectivity

(r)  consignments dispatched through ships from any country having history of virus infection shall not be unloaded on any part of the islands unless such unloading has already commenced and in such a case, it is for the administration to decide, in its discretion, whether such unloading should be continued or not;

(s) stress and strain of police personnel on duty notwithstanding, we expect a humane approach from them while dealing with members of the public who are compelled to stray out for procuring essentials for dear life despite the lockdown without staying at home at all times but this may not be seen to dampen the spirits of those honest and sincere police personnel who are compelled to use the stick, being left with no other alternative, to maintain law and order in these difficult times;

(t) administration shall take due care of the hundreds of migrant workers at Port Blair and elsewhere by accommodating them in temporary shelter homes and by making provisions for their basic needs,

(u) Central Government shall extend its fullest cooperation and assistance to the administration to prevent any loss of life in the islands, either due to the disease or starvation, and also ensure that all essential supplies are made available to the people

Bench further constituted monitoring sub­committees to report to the Court on similar lines as per the requirement of the order dated March 28, 2020 as well as the directions contained in this order.

Matter to be listed on 08-04-2020. [Court on its own motion: In Re Relief and services at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 2020 SCC OnLine Cal 695, decided on 01-04-2020]

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