Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India

Kerala's giving into pressure from traders to relax COVID-19 restrictions for Bakrid, a 'sorry state of affairs': SC

By Garima Tyagi | Updated: Jul 20, 2021 14:45 IST

New Delhi [India], July 20 (ANI): The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up the Kerala government for relaxing COVID-19 restrictions for Bakrid celebration in the state and said it is a "shocking state of affairs" that the government has given in to the demand of traders.
"Kerala government buckling under pressure from traders to open up shops for Bakrid in high COVID-19 infection areas shows the sorry state of affairs and failure to protect life and health. Pressurehood of any manner cannot infringe upon the most precious right of Right to Life for citizens of India," said a bench headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman.
It further said that if there is any spread of the COVID-19 infection due to the lockdown relaxations by the Kerala government owing to Bakrid, any person can bring it to the notice of the court which will then take appropriate action.
It also directed the Kerala government to follow its Kanwar Yatra order.
"We direct the state of Kerala to give heed to Article 21 read with Article 144 of the constitution of India and follow our orders given in the Kanwar yatra case," said the apex court.
The apex court was hearing a plea against the Kerala government's decision of easing restrictions ahead of Eid-ul-Azha (Bakrid) when the state is witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases and test positivity rate.
The plea was filed after Justice Nariman had said it wouldn't allow the Kanwar Yatra in Uttar Pradesh due to COVID-19.
During the hearing, the Kerala government submitted that it was being pressured by the traders/public to relax the restrictions, to which the Bench said pressure groups of all kinds, religious or otherwise, cannot interfere with the fundamental right of life of the citizenry.
It frowned over Kerala's decision to allow the opening of all shops in areas marked as Category D, where the COVID-19 infection rates are critical with Test Positivity Rate (TRP) above 15 per cent, to function without any restrictions on July 19.
"What is extremely alarming is the fact that in category D, where infection rates are above 15 per cent, a full day of relaxation was granted, which was yesterday", the Bench said. A category is placed with TPR less than 5 per cent, B with 5 per cent to 10 per cent and C with 10 per cent to 15 per cent.
"The affidavit of Kerala government discloses a sorry state of affairs and does not in any real manner safeguard right to health guaranteed to citizens under Article 21 of the constitution. The government's relaxation of a day to category D (where infection rates are highest) was uncalled for," noted the Bench.
The Bench disposed of the plea filed by one PKD Nambiar saying no order is required to be passed with regard to quashing of the Kerala government's notification over lockdown relaxations for Bakrid while noting that today was the last day of three days relaxation.
"There is no point. The horse has already bolted," said the Bench, adding that in case of any untoward spread of COVID-19 after the Bakrid, any member of the public can bring it to the notice of the Supreme Court.
At the outset, senior advocate Vikas Singh appearing for the petitioner told the apex court that the Kerala government says that the miseries of traders will be alleviated but the infection rate in the rate is amongst the highest in the country.
"I can understand if your positivity rate is down. But if it's so high and you are not able to bring it down. How can you implement an order like this? How do you expect this to be controlled? This is shocking. Uttar Pradesh is at 0.02 per cent TPR and yet they have restrictions. Kerala is at 10 per cent TPR and how can they justify this? I don't know where this country is going," Singh asked the Bench.
Kerala government justified the relaxation given in the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and told the top court that relaxation was allowed to provide succor to the traders who were expecting that Bakrid sales will alleviate their misery to a certain extent.
Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar appearing for the Kerala government further contended that relaxations to open shops were in place since June 15 based on places categorised as A, B, C and D based on TPR rates.
The top court also noted that the government's latest order mentioned the appeal by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan that "as far as possible" only person who has taken at least one dose of vaccination should visit the shops.
Justice Nariman said that homilies such as "as far as possible" and assurances from traders without anything more do not inspire confidence in the people of India or this court.
In its affidavit filed late night, the Kerala government stated that even though it took all possible steps to alleviate the miseries of the population of the state, the people have been frustrated by the curbs which have been in vogue for more than three months.
Kerala government submitted that traders have stocked up the goods for this purpose and that organization of traders had started to agitate against stringent curbs declaring that they would open shops all over the state flouting the regulations.
Yesterday, the apex court had asked the Kerala government to respond on the intervention application filed against the decision to relax lockdown curbs in view of Bakrid. The application was filed in the suo moto cognizance taken by the top court against the Uttar Pradesh government decision to hold Kanwar Yatra.
The application had cited news reports and said that the Kerala government is ready to sacrifice the lives of innocent citizens by relaxing restrictions.
It stated that despite the discontentment of the Supreme Court over Kanwar Yatra, the Kerala government is acting in a casual manner by relaxing restrictions to the utter dismay of India's citizens.
The plea alleged that the decision has been taken without any consultation from the medical department, rather, the decision is taken in view of discussions between Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and leaders of the trader's body 'Kerala Vyapari Vyavasaay E-Kopana Samiti'.
The intervention application had said that the decision outweighed the interest of the public and is borne from "political and communal considerations".
The largest body of doctors in India, the Indian Medical Association on Sunday warned the Kerala government against easing restrictions ahead of Bakrid.
Amid the ongoing pandemic, the Kerala government on Friday relaxed COVID-19 lockdown restrictions from July 18 to 20 for the festival in view of Eid-ul-Azha. Shops selling clothes, footwear, electronics, jewellery, etc, will be permitted to stay open till 8 pm.
Kerala is among the worst COVID-affected states in the country and is still recovering from the devastating effects of the second COVID-19 wave, with daily cases hovering between 10,000 to 15,000 for the last few weeks.
Bakrid may be observed on July 20 or July 21, depending on the sighting of the moon.
Kerala government's decision came amidst the rising cases in the state and even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi had cautioned against mass gatherings and many states have cancelled pilgrimage yatras. (ANI)