NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Friday said the Central government's decision of phased reopening of lockdown was not taken in haste and it was done to ensure a proper balance between containing the spread of COVID 19 pandemic and making it certain that people are not forced to starvation.
The high court's order came while dismissing with a cost of Rs 20,000 a PIL by a law student challenging the May 30 order of the Centre by which lockdown was extended in containment zones and reopening of activities was done in a phased manner outside containment zones.
The petition was 'completely misconceived' and has been filed only to 'gain publicity', said the 23-page judgement of the high court which held that nothing has been shown by the petitioner as to how the May 30 order was so arbitrary or is based on such irrelevant consideration that it deserves to be struck down as being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.
A bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad said the government is expected to remain cognisant of the situation and evaluate it closely and if it is found that the rate of infection is going up, they can always review their decision and impose curbs, depending upon the situation.
The high court said a series of orders have been passed by the government starting from March this year to tackle the situation and decisions have been taken to ensure minimum hardship to people and several economic packages have been announced to regenerate the economy. "This court can also take judicial notice of the fact that world over, the trend is now to reduce the restrictions which were imposed due to lockdown and to return to normal life," it said.
In order to ensure a proper balance between containing the spread of COVID-19 pandemic and at the same time make certain that people are not forced to starvation the government has issued the impugned order.
"The re-opening has been directed in a phased manner and is not a decision that appears to have been taken in haste. The government is expected to remain cognisant of the situation and evaluate it closely. If it is found that the rate of infection is going up, they can always review their decision and impose curbs, depending upon the situation," the bench said.
It noted that the lockdown has resulted in loss of jobs for several lakhs of people and scores of people were forced to walk considerable distance and stand in long queues at food distribution centers just to have two square meals a day.
It said that several people have gone hungry and were not able to get one meal and many were left shelterless and several lakhs of migrant labour had to walk on foot and go back to their native places. The economic situation of the country has taken a terrible hit due to the lockdown. In fact, many analysts have opined that the lockdown has caused more human suffering than COVID-19 itself.
Economists have forecasted that Indian economy will shrink as a result of the steps taken to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Indian economy virtually came to a standstill during nationwide lockdown. "Production in the country came to a grinding halt during the lockdown period. Construction activities in the country have stopped. People have become unemployed which raises grave concerns regarding the law and order situation in the country," the high court said.
The bench said Arjun Aggarwal, a fifth year law student, filed the petition without looking at the position in law.
He challenged the guidelines on the ground that phased reopening will result in rampant spread of COVID-19 in the country and it has been done only keeping in mind economic considerations while endangering its citizens to the extent of succumbing to a contagious disease in the absence of any proven medical cure for it.
The plea claimed there was no need or justification for reopening the prohibited activities. The bench said in its order that during the hearing, it had informed the petitioner's counsel that the court was not inclined to entertain the petition as it found the plea was an abuse of the process of the law. "We had also warned the counsel that if he presses the petition, we would be constrained to dismiss it with costs. We cautioned the counsel only because the petitioner is a law student," it added.
Despite that, counsel for the petitioner upon taking instructions from the petitioner, continued to address arguments, wasting valuable judicial time. "We deprecate this conduct of the petitioner. He has not cared to read the judgments relating to public interest litigations and the limits on the Court while exercising its power of judicial review on policy matters," the bench said.
While dismissing the plea, it directed the petitioner to deposit the cost of Rs 20,000 in the Delhi High Court Bar Association Lawyers' Security and Welfare Fund within two weeks.
The bench said the courts cannot act as an appellate authority examining the correctness, suitability and appropriateness of the policy. "...nor are courts advisors to the executive in matters of policy which the executive is entitled to formulate. The courts cannot interfere with the policy either on the ground that it is erroneous or on the ground that a better or a wiser alternative is available. Illegality of the policy and not the wisdom and soundness of the policy is the subject matter of judicial review," it said.