SC asks Centre to issue directions on banning or regulating use of disinfection tunnels

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New Delhi, Nov 5 (PTI) The Supreme Court Thursday asked the Centre to issue directions within a month on banning or regulating the use of disinfection tunnels spraying chemical or organic disinfectants on humans.

Similar directions may be issued on exposure of humans to artificial ultraviolet rays, the apex court said, observing that the COVID-19 pandemic has “threatened the health of entire citizenry” and all facets relating to its prevention and cure be dealt with by the authorities empowered under different statutes.

The top court said though the Centre had issued advisory that spraying of disinfectant on human body is not recommended, further steps were not taken in this regard to prevent or regulate it.

A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan said that looking to the health concern of the people in general, this exercise be completed within one month.

The bench, also comprising Justices R S Reddy and M R Shah, said this in its judgement on a petition seeking directions to forthwith ban spraying of all kinds of disinfectants on humans which is being done supposedly for protecting them from novel coronavirus.

“We are of the view that for spraying disinfectant on human body, fumigation or use of UV rays against the human body, there has to be regulatory regime when respondent No.1 (Centre) itself is of the view that such use is not recommended,” the bench said in its 37-page verdict.

The apex court directed that the Centre “may consider and issue necessary directions in exercise of powers vested in it under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, regarding ban/regulation on the usage of disinfection tunnels involving spraying or fumigation of chemical/organic disinfectants for the human beings.” It said that if the use of disinfectant on human body is to cause adverse effect on peoples’ health, there has to be “immediate remedial action” and the authority cannot stop only by saying that such use is not recommended.

“When a statute confer power on authority and that power is to be exercised for the benefit of the people in general, the power is coupled with the duty,” the bench said.

“We have no doubt that the Union and the States are taking all measures to contain the pandemic and all mitigating steps but the facts which have been brought on record in this writ petition indicate that in the present case, something more was required to be done by respondent No.1 apart from issuing advisory that use of disinfectant on human body is not recommended,” it said.

It noted that when public authorities or organizations were using disinfectants, both chemical or organic on human body, and there are various studies to the effect that it may be harmful to health, some more actions were required to remove the “cloud of uncertainty” and to regulate its use so that health of citizens is amply protected.

The bench also referred to the affidavit in which the Centre had said that as public health and hospitals are state subjects, it is for the states and Union Territories to implement guidelines by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and role of the central government is limited to provide necessary guidelines and financial support.

“No exception can be taken to the above pleading but the provisions of the Act, 2005 (Disaster Management Act) confer certain more responsibilities and duties on the respondent no.1 apart from issuance of guidelines and providing financial support. The Act 2005 is special legislation containing self­contained provisions to deal with a disaster. The pandemic being a disaster within the meaning of Act 2005 has to be dealt with sternly and effectively,” it said.

Referring to the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, it said these are not only provisions of empowerment but also cast a duty on different authorities to act in the best interest of people to sub-­serve the objects of the Act.

The bench noted in judgement that on April 18 this year, the Director General of Health Services had issued an advisory against spraying of disinfectants on humans for COVID­19 arrangements.

Referring to a March 11 notification, the bench said that secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has to lay down the guidelines or give directions to concerned ministries or departments of the Centre and the states regarding measures to be taken by them in response to any disrupting situation or disaster.

The bench also noted that an affidavit was filed before it by the Centre with regard to use of UV rays to disinfectant or sterilize edible food items like fruits and vegetables.

“In additional affidavit, rules have been relied namely 'Atomic Energy (Radiation Processing of Food and Allied Product) Rules, 2012', which rules require that no person shall operate the facility without obtaining a license for radiation processing of food and allied products under the Rules,” it noted.

The plea was filed by one Gursimran Singh Narula who had also sought a ban on spraying or fumigation of organic disinfectants and exposing humans to ultraviolet rays. PTI ABA MNL SJK SA