Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of Ravindra V. Ghuge and Shrikant D. Kulkarni, JJ., while addressing the instant PIL, observed that, the service of the COVID Warriors in such extraordinary testing times is a service to the Nation and mankind.
The Constitutional Court should neither be shy of nor find itself powerless in upholding the fundamental rights of the citizens as guaranteed under Article 21.
High Court vide the decision of this Court dated 03-07-2020 observed, with regard to the alleged reluctance of the government employees in discharging their COVID-19 duties, wherein following was stated:
“Such persons need to be suspended immediately and if they are appointed on contract basis, contract need to be terminated and criminal action needs to be taken against them. Invariably against every such person such action needs to be taken and things can be corrected only by taking such action.”
Excessive Billing by Hospitals
On 21-07-2020, Court recorded ceratin grievances regarding alleged excessive billing and the alleged obstinate attitude shown by certain private hospitals in admitting COVID-19 patients.
Court has been informed that the local administrations in all the districts of Maharashtra ae putting in strenuous efforts and are working relentlessly even upto late hours in the Night. They begin their activities in the early hours of the day and are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.
PIL — Whether Criminal or Civil?
Public Prosecutor and the Advocates representing the local bodies strenuously submitted that though the intention of the Court in suo-moto registering the present PIL is laudable, the present matter should not have been registered as a Criminal Public Interest Litigation.
It has been contended that the present PIL should have been registered as a Civil PIL.
For the above-stated issue, bench stated that in the light of Article 311 of the Constitution of India and the principles of natural justice, this Court would not advise short-circuiting of the legal procedure for initiating disciplinary action against the employees of the local authorities or for dispensing with their services.
If the legal procedure is followed and if it legally permits the administration to register a criminal offence against any of the erring employees under the provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and/or the Disaster Management Act, 2005, Court found it judicious to leave the matter to the administration to deal with such cases with an iron hand.
“…it would be unfair on our part to keep the Damocles Sword of initiating criminal action and registering of criminal offences, hanging on the administration and Covid-19 employees.”
Further, the Court stated that black sheep are found in all walks of life and in all spheres. It is mostly such work shirkers and indisciplined employees, who give a set back to the spirit and momentum of hardworking employees and give a bad name to the system.
Electronic and Print Media
Some stray acts of dereliction in duties or unintended negligence are highlighted and the general public at large, on getting to know such instances through the print and electronic media, develop an apprehension or an impression that the State and the local administration have failed.
Further, the Court observed that the good efforts put in by the administration should not be criticised merely for the sake of public consumption.
Bench has the power in the interest of the public at large, to issue appropriate directions to the Executive with the object of upholding the rights of the citizens.
In view of the above-stated position, Court being aware of its limitations issued guidelines under the heads infrastructure, task force, personnel/staff, the supply of food grains and few under the general category for ensuring that the residents of the State do not feel neglected or deprived of medical assistance.
Before parting with the present decision, Court complimented the officials who have wholeheartedly and dedicatedly devoted themselves in the battle of coronavirus. [High Court of Bombay v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 865, decided on 18-08-2020]