Coronavirus | Megh HC deeply concerned by State’s inept response; Issues directions on testing of primary contacts, dead body management, etc

Meghalaya High Court: A Division Bench of H.S. Thangkiew and W. Diengdoh, JJ. addressed a Public Interest Litigation filed with regards to effective monitoring of the measures undertaken by the State Government to contain COVID 19 outbreak and mitigate the plight of citizens of Meghalaya.

An affidavit has also been filed placing various developments and crisis that emerged while disposing of the mortal remains of a Doctor who had fallen victim to COVID 19.

Averments with regard to opening shops and establishments keeping social distance in mind, the need to check the rise in prices of essential commodities, the aspect of financial aid to the daily wagers and labourers.

Another point raised was, the need for setting up screening booths in adequate numbers, and the respondents be directed to disclose the number of PPE’s and test kits available with the Government and their availability thereof, to the hospitals and health centres across the State.

Adding to the above, no designated COVID 19 hospital and no notification has been issued with regard to the manner in which the State would handle the burial and cremation of the persons who fall victim to this virus

Vice President of the High Court Bar Association, K. Paul raised that, Bethany Hospital apart from IIM, Shillong had been identified as quarantine facilities and that the patients and occupants of the institution have not been given adequate food and water and that they are on the point of starvation.

Testing of the primary contacts of the first positive COVID 19 case i.e. one of the “Senior Doctor” are yet to be done.

Counsel then vehemently submits that another aspect which has shocked the conscience of the society is the incident that occurred on 15.04.2020 wherein the local bodies prevented the cremation and burial of the senior doctor who had expired.

The concern following the above trail was that, though the testing of the primary contact is yet to be completed, the District Administration has relaxed the curfew and has allowed over 1500 shops to open, which might lead to disastrous consequences

A. Kumar, AG submits that, all necessary preventive measures have been taken with regard to this pandemic situation and the same is being handled by the State.

With regard to the testing of the primary contact of the infected persons, he submits that the contention that no test has been conducted is incorrect and that as far as possible taking into account the availability of facilities, tests are being carried out

Denial of cremation and burial, he submits that the same was extremely unfortunate, but that however, other organizations have since come forward with offers to allow such burial or cremation

ASG, A. Paul submits that till the primary contacts are not traced, curfew should be strictly imposed.

Concern has also been raised in the manner in which people are being treated and ostracized by the society just because they have come in contact or visited Bethany Hospital during the relevant period.

Bench on perusal of the above stated that,

an area of deep concern is the prevalent ground situation and the level of preparedness of the State machinery to handle the situation.

Our further stated that, noting the above concerns, immediate steps should be taken by the State respondents to ameliorate the situation.

A Public Interest Litigation is not adversarial litigation and the concerns raised are genuine and serious

 On the subsequent events after the detection of the first case and the unfortunate demise of the senior doctor, this court cannot but remark on the inept way the same was handled by the State authorities and the conduct of the Local Bodies/Durbar Shnongs which has shocked the conscience of every right thinking individual.

Thus, Court directed the following:

  • State Health authorities shall immediately ensure the testing of the primary contacts and the same if not immediately possible, then such persons to be placed in quarantine till the tests are conducted.
  • Adequate assistance to be rendered to the patients stranded in Bethany Hospital, following the food and water requirements.
  • State Authorities to strictly follow the guidelines on dead body management.
  • Any person, local body/Durbar Shnong or organization which obstructs the State authorities in the control of the pandemic or any matter connected thereto, such as dead body management, cremation and burial shall be dealt with in accordance with law and cases to be registered under appropriate provisions of law
  •  State authorities shall sensitize the public especially where the cremation of burial grounds are situated.
  • State authorities to take stern action for enforcement of the Rule of Law.

Matter to be listed on 21-04-2020.[High Court of Meghalaya Bar v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine Megh 56, decided on 16-04-2020]

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