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Sunday, November 28, 2021

UP govt rejects Allahabad HC diktat on complete lockdown in 5 cities, SC stays HC order

Moments after the Allahabad High Court yetserday ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to impose a lockdown in 5 cities – Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur and Gorakhpur – for a week, the Yogi Adityanath administration said that it will not impose a complete lockdown.

The administration said that it will instead impose stricter restrictions in the cities and submit a reply before the court on its observations. Today, the UP Government approached the Supreme Court which stayed the Allahabad HC order and posted the matter for hearing after 2 weeks.

Arguing for UP government, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the blanket lockdown in 5 cities by a judicial order will create immense administrative difficulties.

Allahabad HC’s tirade against UP government

In a tirade against the UP government, the HC Bench of Justice Ajit Kumar and Justice Siddhartha Varma which was listening to a suo motu (of its own accord) PIL said that the surge of pandemic COVID-19 has ‘virtually incapacitated all medical infrastructure in the State of U.P.’ and especially in cities like Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur and Gorakhpur.

While admitting that announcing lockdown was purely a policy decision for the government, the court claimed it was stepping in as “no concrete plan had yet been chalked out by the Government of UP”.

The bench claimed that “public expects judiciary to safeguard public interest” and blamed “those in the helm of affairs of governance for the present chaotic health problems and more so when there is a democracy”. It further went on to target the government for failing to “counter the pandemic even after one long year of experience and learning.” The Court called it a ‘shame’ that while the Government ‘knew’ of the magnitude of the second wave it never planned things in advance.

While no one would argue that all institutions in Bharat – executive/bureaucracy, legislature, judiciary – need improvement, to whiplash an elected government which has done reasonably well in containing the first wave of the pandemic in such a hectoring tone does not sit well. The second wave has caught the whole world by surprise, fueled in large part by mutant variants of the Covid-19 virus.

No one knew or expected the explosion in daily cases during the 2nd wave. The peak daily caseload countrywide during the 1st wave was 1 lakh per day, and this was crossed as recently as 4th April. Within 10 days, we had hit 2 lakh, and by the 18th we were seeing 2.75 lakh cases per day across the nation!

If anyone had prescient knowledge of the coming second wave, surely the Supreme Court too would not have allowed the farmers’ protest on Delhi’s borders, which has broken every Covid-appropriate protocol imaginable. SC refused to act against the protest even after the farmer unions contemptuously dismissed its attempt to intermediate, and even after the large-scale violence seen on Republic Day.

Taking aim at the UP government’s well-founded fears about the disastrous economic affect of another absolute lockdown, the HC said, “Economy, economy and economy is the only tune that 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.”

Such flippant statements do not augur well for the country. We are a poor country which has still not recovered from the colonial era loot and plunder of our resources. The government does not have an endless pool to endlessly provide relief for the poor, salaries to front line workers and upgrade medical infrastructure. Government gets funds for health, education and infrastructure development from taxes, and taxes can only be collected from an economically productive population.

The economic devastation wrought by the first lockdown is real, although it can be argued that it was a necessary step at the time as we were facing a complete unknown and lockdown bought us some time to ramp up on the basic tools like RT-PCR kits, PPE kits etc. required to battle the pandemic. But another round of complete lockdowns can drive the economy into the ground and affect millions more than just the Covid-19 patients. A more calibrated approach is preferred, which is what the UP government submitted as well.

A strong economy is the bed rock of any country, and every government has to make tough choices and trade-offs during an emergency like we are facing now. Even those suffering from Covid-19 need ‘dal roti’ (the Bharatiya ‘bread and butter’), jobs to go back to.

The court also took aim at election expenses saying, “One would only laugh at us that we have enough to spend on elections and very little to spend on public health.” We agree that the 24×7 election cycle we have in Bharat is ridiculous – with a local, state or national election taking place almost every other month, our leaders are forever in campaign mode which eats into their time for thoughtful governance. One good solution which the PM has been speaking for many years now is to have ‘one nation, one election’ whereby we hold simultaneous elections at all levels once every 5 years, something which other countries do as well, thus saving time and money. But most Opposition parties have opposed the idea.

One estimate derived through something called a  ‘perception, experience and estimation’ approach  claims that election expense for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was around 55000-60000 crores. Also, a total of  Rs. 3,475 crore worth of cash and other items were seized by the Election Commission. Staggering figures, indeed, and quite clearly the candidate expenditure limit is being violated through creative means. But then, why do we find that MPs and MLAs on corruption charges hardly ever pay for their crimes in court? Why are corruption charges against judges never followed through?

Bribing of voters and use of enormous sums of money in election should worry us all, but why haven’t courts spoken out about the Rs. 20,000 crores per year flowing in to FCRA-NGOs, most of the money going towards religious conversion and dubious activism funded by #BreakingIndia forces? Recent moves to improve monitoring of FCRA funds led to howl of protests from ‘civil society’, and SC ruled that “Government can’t deny foreign funds to NGOs which use bandhs, hartals, rasta rokos and other means of dissent to support public causes.”

Conclusion

Common citizens expect all institutions to work together, in a spirit of cooperation, and not indulge in one-upmanship. Even if governments at times criticize the judiciary, they do so in a measured tone and with respect. But the same cannot be said of our self-appointed, cliquish judiciary. While judges see themselves as the last defenders of the constitution, the uncomfortable reality is that there is tremendous dissatisfaction with the quality of justice provided in the country.

During the 1st wave, we saw multiple instances of attacks on police and front-line workers trying to quarantine or test for Covid, many of those attacks coming from the attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat event. Our courts let of all foreign Jamaatis with token fines, and often accompanied with strong rebukes to police and authorities who were just doing their job! If courts had taken a tough line against those who broke the Covid-19 protocol the first time around, maybe people would have behaved more responsibly and we wouldn’t be in the position we are today?

Ultimately, in any democracy, the people’s representatives should have a say in the running of institutions like judiciary  – the separation of powers has to be clearly followed at all times, and the tendency of the judiciary to encroach the executive’s space and interfere in religious matters of the majority population must be curbed.


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