Friday, July 1st, 2022 19:47:07

Trade Not More Important Than Health: Kerala HC Dismisses Plea Seeking Withdrawal Of Weekend Lockdown In State

By SANJEEV SIROHI
Updated: August 17, 2021 6:56 am

In a progressive, powerful and penetrating observation, the Kerala High Court has just recently on July 27, 2021 in a latest, landmark, laudable and learned judgment titled A Hameed Hajee v. State of Kerala in WP(C) NO. 14867 OF 2021 while ruling explicitly that trade is not more important than health has dismissed a petition seeking withdrawal of the weekend lockdowns imposed in the State amid the pandemic. It must be mentioned here that the Bench of Kerala High Court comprising of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly observed that the prayers sought for by the petitioners would be contrary to the directions issued by the Supreme Court. Very rightly so!

To start with, this latest, learned, laudable and landmark judgment authored by Chief Justice S Manikumar for himself and Justice Shaji P Chaly of Kerala High Court sets the ball rolling by first and foremost observing in para 1 that, “Instant writ petition has been filed for the following reliefs:-

“i. Issue a writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ order or direction to the respondent to withdraw the lock down imposed on Saturdays and Sundays and restriction imposed on all shops, establishments, banks, other institutions, in the state enabling them to function on all days without any time restrictions;

  1. Issue a writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ order or direction to the respondents to allow the shops, establishments, banks, other institutions to function more time including Sundays to reduce overcrowding of people by maintaining social distancing at all time;

iii. Issue a writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ order or direction to the respondent to pass an order to functions Offices and other essentials services of Government Banks and Financial Institutions and other institutions on Sundays by following rotations of employees by granting leave on weekday to ensure services to all needy by avoiding overcrowding;

  1. Issue a writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ, order to the respondent implement effective and efficient plan to strict adherence of Covid Protocol and Social Distancing each and every corner of the state.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then puts forth in para 2 that, “Short facts leading to filing of the writ petition are as hereunder:-

According to the petitioner, the lock down and restrictions imposed by the State Government to control the spread of Covid-19 has proved to be  unsuccessful, evidencing from the current status of continuing constant rate of TPR in the State. Due to the indefinite extension of complete lock down on Saturday and Sundays, and other restrictions on the functioning of shops, establishments, Banks and other Institutions in the State, on a restricted time period and days, cause overcrowding in all these places, during the period of its functioning, cases have not come down. Petitioner has contended that the number of people or customers are not reduced, by imposing the lock down, but the Government have restrained, to a shorter period, to avail and meet the demands of public and others, the needs and requirements, which cause the overcrowding in shops and other establishments, violating the Covid Protocol and social distancing, the most effective and efficient method accepted across the world, for controlling spread of Covid-19. Petitioner has further contended that there are more than 30 lakh shops and establishments functioning in the State of Kerala and more than 90 lakh workers employed in these shops and establishments. Due to lock down and restrictions on the functioning of shops and establishments, merchants, businessmen, their employees and their families are facing huge financial stringency. The family of these people are purely depending on these sectors for their livelihood and other needs. Due to restrictions to open and functioning of the shops and establishments, huge stock purchased by the merchants are lying idle, holding their huge investment. Apart from that, dues in rent for shops and buildings, electricity and water charges, EMI for loan, wages and salary of its works and employees, etc., piled up the financial burden and liability of merchants in the State. Petitioner has also contended that in the urge of effective and efficient method to control the Covid-19 in the State and safeguard the interest of the merchants and businessmen in the State, according to the petitioner, the Government is still continuing with the proven failed method of implementing lock down and restriction on shops and establishment to control spread of pandemic Covid-19, which is highly necessary to be withdrawn in the current scenario and that the Government should come out with effective implementation of Covid Protocol, social distancing and sanitation and cleanliness, a world wide accepted method of controlling spread of Covid-19.”

Simply put, the Bench then envisages in para 5 that, “Learned Advocate General further submitted that having regard to the ‘Kanwar Yatra’ in Uttar Pradesh, Hon’ble Supreme Court registered Suo motu Writ Petition (C). No.5 of 2021 and, on 14.7.2021, issued certain directions and further directed to list the matter on 16.07.2021. Subsequently, on 18.07.2021, an interlocutory application, viz., I.A. No.82837 of 2021, in Suo motu Writ Petition (C).No.5 of 2021 is filed on behalf of one Mr. P.K.D. Nambiar, pointing out certain news articles, which portray an alarming situation taking place in Kerala as a result of Bakrid celebrations.” 

Most significantly, the Bench then observes in para 6 that, “Having heard learned counsel for the parties therein, in I.A. No.82837 of 2021, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 20.7.2021, passed the following orders:

“What is extremely alarming is the fact that in Category D, where infections are the highest i.e. 15%, a full day of relaxation has been granted, which was yesterday. It is then stated that, as far as possible, the persons visiting shops and other establishments may belong to those with at least one dose of vaccine/COVID recovered category and follow strict COVID protocols, echoing paragraph (vi) of the 17th July, 2021 Notification, along with the Chief Minister’s appeal. The aforesaid facts disclose an alarming state of affairs. To give in to pressure groups so that the citizenry of India is laid bare to a nationwide pandemic discloses a sorry state of affairs. Even otherwise, homilies such as “as far as possible” and assurances from traders without anything more, do not inspire any confidence in the people of India or this Court. We may only indicate that this affidavit discloses a sorry state of affairs as has been stated herein above, and does not in any real manner safeguard the Right to Life and Health guaranteed to all the citizens of India under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It may also be pointed out that the relaxation for one day to a Category D area was wholly uncalled for. In these circumstances, we direct the State of Kerala to give heed to Article 21 read with Article 144 of the Constitution of India, and follow the law laid down in our orders in the Uttar Pradesh case i.e., 14.7.2021, 16.7.2021 and 19.7.2021. Also, pressure groups of all kinds, religious or otherwise, cannot in any manner, interfere with this most precious Fundamental Right of all the citizens of India. We may also indicate that if as a result of the Notification dated 17.07.2021, any untoward spread in the Covid-19 disease takes place, any member of the public may bring this to the notice of this Court, after which this Court will take necessary action against those who are responsible. In view of the above, I.A. No.82837 of 2021 and the suo motu writ petition are disposed of.””

Adding more to it, the Bench then points out in para 7 that, “Mr. K. Gopalakrishna Kurup, learned Advocate General, further submitted that there will be a review of the COVID-19 pandemic situation in Kerala and depending upon the decision, the restrictions either relaxed in certain cases or made stringent, as the case may be. According to him, only after a comprehensive decision is taken, appropriate orders will be issued by the Government.”

Furthermore, the Bench then points out in para 8 that, “Placing on record the above submission, having regard to the orders of the Hon’ble Apex dated 20.7.2021, extracted supra, and taking note of the submission that a review will be conducted on COVID-19 pandemic situation, we are of the view that the interim order granted on 19.05.2021, periodically extended, requires further extension. Interim order is extended upto 9.8.2021. Registry is directed to post this suo motu writ petition on 06.08.2021.””

What’s more, the Bench then further added that, “Thus, when the Hon’ble Supreme Court had already taken note of the Covid situation in Kerala and observed that relaxation of the restrictions, even for a day to some category of area, was wholly uncalled for, and that when the Hon’ble Supreme Court has also observed that it was the sorry state of affairs that State of Kerala, does not in any real manner, safeguard the rightful life and health guaranteed to all the citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution, the prayers sought for, would be contrary to the directions issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.”

Finally and far most significantly, the Bench then holds in the final para that, “That apart, judicial notice can also be taken that in the State of Kerala, the Test Positivity Rate is increasing, despite the measures taken by the Government, to contain the spread of Covid – 19. Trade or business is not more important than health, which is integral to right to life. Reasonable restrictions can be imposed on trade or business. Article 19 (6) and 21 of the Constitution of India, encourages, right to trade and business. If only there is health and life, one can engage himself in trade or business. Having regard to the above, we are not inclined to issue any mandamus as prayed for by the writ petitioner. Writ petition is dismissed.”

Of course, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the final para forms the cornerstone of this brief, brilliant and balanced judgment which very rightly accords the supreme importance to health and also minces no words to hold that, “Trade or business is not more important than health, which is integral to right to life.” We all must always adhere to it and this alone explains why it is so famously said also that, “Health is wealth.” If our health is not good then we cannot enjoy anything in life no matter how much wealth we may have with us There is certainly no valid reason to disagree with what the Division Bench of Kerala High Court comprising Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly have held so explicitly, elegantly and effectively in this noteworthy case while dismissing the plea seeking withdrawal of weekend lockdown in the State. There can certainly just be no denying it!

 

By SANJEEV SIROHI

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