Saying that the rising Covid cases had “virtually incapacitated” the medical infrastructure in Uttar Pradesh, the Allahabad High Court Monday ordered a weeklong lockdown in the badly hit Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur Nagar and Gorakhpur districts, till April 26.
Hearing a PIL on the “inhuman” condition at quarantine centres and the state of Covid treatment, a Division Bench of Justices Ajit Kumar and Siddhartha Varma said that while ordering a lockdown was the government’s prerogative, it was disappointed by the measures taken since its last order, calling them an “eyewash”.
The Yogi Adityanath government, however, said it was not thinking of a complete lockdown in the five districts as of now. Additional Chief Secretary (Information) Navneet Sahgal said the government would impose further restrictions, but that apart from saving lives, it had to also think of livelihoods.
In a statement later in the evening, the government repeated the lives and livelihoods arguments, adding that it had already taken several measures to stop the spread, such as containment zones, night curfews, Sunday bandh, and limits on gatherings. The steps will help stop the spread and it was not thinking about a complete lockdown as of now, the government said.
The court order appeared to anticipate such a response, saying. “Economy, economy and economy is the only tune the government is all the time harping upon. But bread and butter if you take to a person who needs oxygen and medication, it will be of no use to him. You may have grocery shops full of eatables and industries which produce bikes and cars, but all this won’t be of any use if your medical shops run out of stocks of lifesaving drugs… It is a shame that while the government knew of the magnitude of the second wave, it never planned things.”
Noting that even CM Adityanath was in isolation following infection, the court said, “If popular government has its own political compulsions in not checking public movements… we cannot remain mere passive spectators… We can’t shirk away from our constitutional duty to save innocent people from the pandemic which is spreading due to the negligence of a few.”
Advocating a lockdown, the Bench said, “In the given scenario… if people are restrained from going outside their homes for a week… the current chain of spread of Covid infection can be broken and this will give some respite to the frontline medical and health workers.”
On April 13, the high court had asked the state government to look into the viability of a complete lockdown in districts where the Covid-19 situation was alarming.
Its order Monday called for all establishments, except essential, and public transport to remain shut till April 26; .closure of shopping complexes, malls, eateries of all sorts, and religious establishments; closure of all shops, including groceries and excluding medical outlets, with more than three workers; ban on all gatherings including weddings, bar exceptions; shutdown of all educational institutions; movement to be restricted to what is specified in the above instructions; and notification of containment zones in newspapers with wide circulation in the five districts. “In addition, we direct the state government to go robust for implementing the current vaccination programme.”
The Bench added, “Our directions are nowhere close to a complete lockdown. We are conscious of the fact that before imposing a lockdown, the government has to work out various modalities… It does not mean that we do not believe in it… We, therefore… direct the government to consider imposition of a complete lockdown in the entire state for at least a period of two weeks.”
It said that following its April 13 order, the government had imposed a night curfew and weekend curfew. “It was probably an effort to show that our last order had been taken care of. We are however, not satisfied at all.”
On the situation on the ground, the court said from tracking to testing, things had failed. “… patients have outnumbered hospital beds, people are running pillar to post and in this process, attendants of patients are not only getting infected but others in public (too), and a complete chain has formed. Before it further spirals to engulf in it the entire population of these badly hit districts, it is necessary to take some harsh steps.”
The court added, “… a large number of medical and health workers are either in isolation or quarantined… and the system is being managed with 1/3rd strength… If things are not arrested to give some respite to medical and paramedical staff, the entire system would collapse and relief will be confined to VIPs and VVIPs.” People are dependent on VIPs for life-saving drugs and even to get RT-PCR tests done, it said.
Blaming “those in the helm of affairs “, the judges asked why the government was floundering “after one long year of experience and learning”. “One would only laugh at us that we have enough to spend on elections and very little to spend on public health.”
The high court also expressed its displeasure at the ongoing panchayat elections in the state, involving teachers and other government staff. “The authorities… (are) fully in the know that no activity (must) take place where it was not possible to keep people away from each other… Action is liable to be taken against the organisers who did not anticipate such eventualities… The action taken shall be placed before us on the next date.