HC asks Delhi govt to make concrete plan to enforce social distancing, wearing masks

In a bid to control the COVID-19 pandemic from spiralling out of control, the Delhi High Court has asked the Delhi government to come up with a concrete plan for enforcing social distancing and the wearing of masks at public places across the city.

“In view of the limited manpower available with the Delhi government, that would have helped in augmenting the support system and assisting the Government in enforcing social distancing and wearing of masks at public places across the city. We hope and expect that the Delhi government will examine the said suggestion and come up with a concrete plan in the next status report,” a division bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad said on Thursday.

During the hearing, the Delhi government submitted that steps are being taken to invite the public at large to make suggestions to contain the COVID-19 infection.

The court, which was hearing a petition filed by Rakesh Malhotra seeking directions to conduct large-scale rapid testing in the national capital for identifying the infected people, noted that there are a total of 119 enforcement vehicles and 134 enforcement teams in place in Delhi.

“Considering that Delhi has a population of over two crores, it appears that the number of enforcement vehicles and the Enforcement teams is insufficient. Learned counsel explains that besides the teams created by the Delhi government, it is the Delhi Police that has mainly been challaning persons for violating the norms relating to not wearing of face masks in public places, not maintaining social distancing, congregating in public places, spitting in public places, consuming liquor, pan, in public places, etc,” the bench said.

“The said thought appears to be rather belated,” the court said adding, “By now, Delhi government ought to have roped in the readily available network of Residents Welfare Associations and the Market Associations across all the districts for them to pitch in and contribute their mite towards containing the infection in their respective localities/market places.”

Considering the steep rise in the daily death rate in Delhi in the past couple of weeks, the court directed the Delhi government to set out in the next status report, the steps taken by it to ensure that adequate arrangements have been made at all crematoriums and burial places for performing the last rites of those who have succumbed to the infection.

The bench also said that the fines imposed for failure to adhere to the norms of social distancing and of wearing masks are proportionately very small and listed the matter for further hearing on November 26. “Even the fine imposed, Rs 500 for the first violation and Rs 1,000 for the second violation is hardly a deterrent,” the court said.

Notably, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had later announced that the fine for not wearing a mask has been increased to Rs 2,000 in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases in the national capital.

The High Court also directed the Delhi government to ensure that details of the 33 private hospitals, where ICU beds have been requisitioned by it, are available on its website and made public through notices in the press and in all other manners so that the public knows which hospital can be approached in case of an emergency, without loss of time.

It also directed that the status report should throw light on the steps taken by the Delhi government to create facilities of care homes to shift those who are infected, in view of the fact that there are several families living in small and confined spaces and any person infected within the family, would hardly have any space to self-isolate and necessarily need a care home instead of hospitalisation to overcome the infection and recover safely without being exposed to cross-infection.

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