[COVID-19] Del HC | Keeping a person under unjustified home quarantine has deleterious civil consequences

Delhi High Court: C. Hari Shankar, J., while addressing a petition held that,

“Courts have necessarily to be slow in subjecting executive action, taken in the context of the COVID- 2019 crisis, to searching judicial scrutiny.”

Petition on 24th March, 2020 came in contact with a pizza delivery person who was tested positive with COVID-19 on 14th April, 2020.

Petitioner was thus home quarantined.

During the said period of quarantine, petitioner was issued a warning notice.

Petitioner’s Counsel, Shyel Trehan had advanced the following submissions in the last hearing:

  • warning notice, dated 20th April, 2020, was completely false on facts. There had been no violation, by her client, of the home quarantine imposed on him
  • despite the expiry of the period of home quarantine on 28th April, 2020, the officials of the respondent had directed the petitioner to continue to remain quarantined till the notice of quarantine, affixed on his premises, was removed.
  • Period of quarantine was not in conformity with the applicable guidelines on the issue, specifically, the “Guideline for Home Quarantine” issued by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) 14th March, 2020 and the Delhi Epidemic Diseases, COVID-2019 Regulations, 2020

Present petition also sought direction to respondent with regard to formulate a policy to enable people in home quarantine to access private laboratories for COVID-19 test.

Ms Trehan submitted that, these regulations, unmistakably, justify placing a person in quarantine only for a period of 14 days from the date on which the person came in contact with someone who was found to be COVID-2019 positive.

Bench stated that,

Tackling the COVID-2019 pandemic is a challenge, the scale of which has not been seen during the lifetime of any of us and, hopefully, would not be seen hereafter either. Though while tackling the challenge, civil and constitutional rights of citizens cannot be compromised.

“…while examining whether, in a particular case, such compromise has, or has not, taken place, it is as much incumbent on the citizen, as on the Court, to adopt an approach which is not hyper-legalistic, but is pragmatic and practical, and would not disturb the efforts to tide over the pandemic, in which efforts, rewardingly, the nation has come together as a whole.”

In the opinion of this Court, the period of 14 days, stipulated in the afore-extracted provisions in the Guidelines of 14th March, 2020 and the 2020 Regulations is not mandatory, but is intended to serve as a general guideline.

Thus, Court is unwilling to hold that in each and in every case, the period of home quarantine must stand limited to 14 days, and no more. Also, keeping a person under unjustified home quarantine also has deleterious civil consequences.

Hence, Court is of the opinion that, at this juncture, the interests of justice would be abundantly protected by a direction, to the effect that if any person, who does not display COVID-2019 symptoms, and has not tested positive for the COVID- 2019 virus, is home quarantined for over 14 days, he shall have a right to represent to the authorities against such continued quarantine and, if he so represents, the authorities would be bound either to lift the quarantine forthwith, or to explain, to the person concerned, as expeditiously as possible and without any undue delay, the reason for keeping him in home quarantine for over 14 days.

However, all notices, placing persons under home quarantine, have necessarily to indicate the period of home quarantine, as well as the date from which it is to commence.

In view of the above, petition stands disposed of. [Amit Bhargava v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2020 SCC OnLine Del 583 , decided on 11-05-2020]

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