PIL against curfew relaxation: High Court gives Chandigarh Admin a day to reply

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People wait outside a shop in Sector 22 market, after the curfew was relaxed in Chandigarh on Saturday. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

AT A special hearing on Saturday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered the Chandigarh Administration to file a reply by next (Sunday) morning to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the decision to allow people to walk to shops and markets in their sectors from 10 am to 6 pm to procure essential goods amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The hearing took place through video conferencing before a division bench of Justices Rajiv Sharma and Rakesh Kumar Jain. The petitioner, Adityajit Singh Chada, was represented by senior advocate D S Patwalia. UT senior standing counsel Pankaj Jain accepted notice on behalf of the Administration.

The Chandigarh district magistrate had on March 23 ordered curfew in the Union Territory in the wake of the outbreak. While the public were restrained from leaving their homes, the Chandigarh Administration on Friday passed an order allowing one person from each household to step out of their houses between 10 am and 6 pm to visit their nearest shop or market. The residents, however, have not been allowed to use vehicles. The Administration also ordered that shops with essential commodities will remain open from 10 am to 6 pm.

Chada, 25, a resident of Sector 9, himself an advocate, in the petition said, “Shockingly, once the things were being streamlined and all residents were adhering to the curfew, the respondent administration has now passed the impugned order dated 27.03.2020 vide which the earlier order stands superseded and the curfew as imposed by the Prime Minister stands relaxed."

Eight people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Chandigarh till date. The PIL said the decision to allow public movement defeats the purpose of curfew and will lead to spread of coronavirus. The PGIMER Faculty Association in a statement Friday night said that the relaxation will defeat the purpose of social distancing and quarantine. “We request the administration that this step be immediately withdrawn,” said the association in a statement.

During the hearing, Jain on behalf of the Chandigarh Administration submitted that they are adhering to the guidelines issued by the central government. “We tried to be proactive and graduated lockdown to curfew. We tried to supply essential items also. But in the four days we found that because of the curfew, hoarding and panic buying was going on...the people who...were totally reliant on day-to-day purchases...were suffering,” Jain recalling his oral submissions said.

The UT senior standing counsel also argued that the Administration, even after passing the order, was being cautious. “Social distancing is something we will maintain through police. To say that we should run the supply chain is not feasible for the Administration. God forbid if it goes beyond something, we have to keep ourselves free for reviving and creating the required infrastructure,” Jain said.

The hearing will take place on Sunday at 10 am. The petition was filed through advocates Patwalia and Kannan Malik.