The Supreme Court stayed the Allahabad High Court order imposing to what amounts to a total lockdown in five cities in Uttar Pradesh till April 26. The top court's decision came on a plea filed by the UP government challenging the order on the grounds that it had already issued several directions to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The top court appointed senior advocate PS Narasimha as an amicus curiae in this matter.
The active caseload of COVID positive patients breached the two lakh mark on Monday, the day the high court issued its order imposing a lockdown in Prayagraj, Kanpur, Varanasi, Lucknow and Gorakhpur. Uttar Pradesh trailed Maharashtra which is the worst-hit state in the country. In nearly three weeks, the number of cases has risen almost 21 times with one lakh cases in just five days.
The top court's order came after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta – representing UP, submitted that the "blanket lockdown would create immense administrative difficulties." Furthermore, the state has already imposed a number of guidelines (six of the 12) issued by the high court to arrest the spread of the infection.
Issuing a lockdown prerogative of state not High Court: UP to SC
The high court encroached upon the executive's domain in its order imposing a lockdown, the Yogi Adityanath-led government told SC. Though the high court's "intention" behind the order "is both laudable and salutary", it not only encroaches on the executive's domain, but is also incapable of being executed. "…if executed, is capable of creating panic, fear and law and order situation in the State," the UP government said.
There are certain modalities the state needs to work out before any lockdown is imposed. It must also weigh the pros and cons before taking any such drastic action, the state added.
"To impose such drastic measures, the administrative machinery of the State has to be made well equipped at a stage anterior so as to ensure that no panic and fear is spread amongst the public and all the logistical support and supply lines to give either cooked or uncooked food to the needy is established," the plea said.
"…An irresistible belief of imposition of a lockdown for a week to provide a remedial action and to arrest the virulent spread of COVID-19 in the State, is not and cannot become basis of exercise of the plenary constitutional powers…," the plea added.
"It is further respectfully submitted that the sudden lockdown imposed by the high court will entail irreparable hardship and civil consequence both on the citizenry of the said cities as well as on its administration," the petition added.
Furthermore, the high court made unwarranted observations against the state administration based on scant evidence. The state added that the high court's observations "are at best founded on hearsay narrative which is circulated for extraneous reasons on social and other forms of media."
Population of five cities not ready for a lockdown: UP to SC
The population in the five cities where a lockdown has been imposed may not be ready for such a measure. There may be a large number of people who do not have basic provisions that could last until April 26, the state said.
Furthermore, people from the lower strata of the society "live on 'earning and surviving on day to day basis'," it added. A vast population in these cities are dependent on small public eating joints (thelas) and may not have kitchens to prepare their own meals.
"The sudden imposition of the lockdown, with immediate effect, that too for a week, wherein grocery shops/food marts/private ration shops, eating points on thelas would not be available to citizens…would inevitably incite public scare and panic leading to a certain breach of peace in the society," the state said opposing the lockdown order.
Government to blame for present chaotic health problems: Allahabad HC
A division bench of the Allahabad high court on Monday imposed what amounted to a total lockdown in five UP cities. The high court pulled up the state for its ineffectiveness in arresting the spread of the infection.
While issuing strictures, the high court observed it could not remain as mere passive spectators while if the popular government has its own political compulsions for not checking public movements during pandemic.
"Those in the helm of affairs of governance are to be blamed for the present chaotic health problems…," the high court had observed adding that the current medical health infrastructure developed by the government could cater to the needs of less than "0.5% of the city population".
In a veiled reference to the ongoing panchayat elections in the state, the high court said the state was keener on spending money on elections as opposed to public health.