'Horse Has Already Bolted': Highlights Of SC's Order On Day Three Of Kerala's Three-Day Lockdown Relaxation For Bakrid
Kerala government's decision comes at a time when the state is becoming the biggest outbreak centre in the country, accounting for more than 33 per cent of all infections in India
Yesterday, the Supreme Court gave the Left front government in Kerala less than 24 hours to explain the reasons for relaxing COVID-19 restrictions between July 18 and 20 for Bakrid celebrations. A bench of Justices Rohinton F Nariman and B R Gavai asked the state government to do so by evening and posted the case as the first to be heard on Tuesday.
On 17 July, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had announced that in view of Bakrid (Eid-ul-Azha) on 21 July, textiles, footwear shops, jewellery, fancy stores, shops selling home appliances and electronic items, all types of repairing shops and shops selling essential items shall be allowed to be open from 7 am to 8 pm.
Today the court came down hard on the state government for allowing a three-day relaxation in Covid-19 restrictions for Bakrid, saying that it shows a “sorry state of affairs”.
The court also commented that any incident that directly affected lives would be viewed sternly and result in “prompt action”.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for P K D Nambiar, had told the court that while Uttar Pradesh had stopped the Kanwar Yatra, Kerala had displayed a “casual” attitude to lockdown restrictions owing to Bakrid. Recently, the apex court closed its suo motu case on the Yatra after Yogi government announced on Monday that “there will be no Kanwar Yatra at all, it has been completely postponed” in 2021.
“Kerala relaxed lockdown curbs on the occasion of Eid on the day the Prime Minister called for caution… Kerala has continued to throw up alarming numbers [of COVID cases] even while many other States have improved their situation,” Nambiar said in his plea.
COVID Cases On The Rise In Kerala
Kerala government's decision to ease distancing measures comes at a time when the state accounts for about 30 per cent of the country’s active caseload. While COVID-19 cases across the nation have come down sharply, Kerala is witnessing a spike.
On Saturday (17 July), Kerala reported 16,148 new cases of the coronavirus disease – the highest single-day increase in infections in over a month. It's test positivity rate (TPR) remains the highest among India’s populous states, nearly five times the national average of 2.1 per cent.
While the seven-day average of daily infections has reportedly dropped more than 90 per cent from peak of second wave across India, it has only fallen 65 per cent in Kerala. The state is becoming the biggest outbreak centre in the country. In the past week, Kerala accounted for more than 33 per cent of all infections reported across India.
The second wave of COVID-19 peaked mid-May, when the State was reporting around 44,000 cases daily; had about 4.45 lakh active cases in the community; and the TPR was around 30 per cent.
At this point, the state government imposed a total lockdown for over 15 days. The cases eventually declined but since around one month, the epidemic curve has remained on a plateau, logging around 10,000 cases-12,000 cases every day, and the TPR hovering close to 11 per cent.
In the past two weeks, the case graph has been rising again, recording a 20 per cent growth. On Friday, Prime Minister Modi had expressed concern regarding large number of cases in Kerala and Maharashtra during a meeting with the chief ministers of six states.
Kerala Govt Defends Bakrid Move
On Monday (19 July), late in the evening, the LDF-led government filed a 29-page affidavit. It said that the state’s strategy was to achieve “a rational balance between life and livelihood”. The government said traders were expecting Bakrid to alleviate their misery.
The traders had stocked up goods early. They had started to agitate against the stringent curbs. The Opposition had also raised the traders’ issue in the public domain. The State, while relaxing restrictions for Bakrid, had specifically ordered that “as far as possible”, customers should have had at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine and must strictly follow the protocol.
Earlier, the Bench had taken into consideration “the situation and the celebrations going on in the state of Kerala”. Kerala counsel G Prakash, said only some shops had been opened in a controlled manner.
SC Rejects Govt's Arguments
The apex court today chastised the state government for putting commercial concerns over the health of the people. It termed the relaxations granted by the Kerala government for Bakrid “wholly uncalled for”, and added that the citizenry of India has been laid bare to the nationwide pandemic because of them.
"It is a shocking state of affairs that the Kerala government has given in to the demand of traders to relax lockdown norms," the SC said today, adding that the pressure groups in the market can’t be allowed to affect the right to health.
However, the Supreme Court said that it couldn't quash the Kerala government notification, as "the horse has already bolted.”
The court warned the Kerala government that it will take action if relaxations granted by the state for Bakrid lead to further spread of Covid-19. “We direct Kerala to give heed to Article 21 read with Article 144 of the Constitution of India and follow our orders given in the Kanwar Yatra case,” the bench stated.
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