Gauhati HC orders punishment for Covid-19 safety norms violators in Assam

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With Assam witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases, the Gauhati high court has ordered the state government to punish those violating the safety norms by not wearing face masks.

Acting on a public interest litigation filed by Tanmay Jyoti Mahanta, a division bench of the court comprising chief justice Ajai Lamba and justice Manish Choudhury issued the order on Thursday.

In his petition, Mahanta pointed out that despite implementing the lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19 and various notifications issued by Assam government regarding the use of masks and maintenance of social distancing, rules are being flouted by the public, resulting in over 1 lakh positive cases in the state.

The PIL said that despite the state health department’s order, issued on May 8, stating those found without masks would be fined Rs 500 for the first, second and third offence and Rs 1000 for subsequent offences, people could be seen moving around in public places without wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

Mahanta requested the court to issue a “strict and proper” direction to the authorities for implementing the use of masks and maintenance of social distancing norms in public and workplaces and enforcement of punitive measures against those found violating the norms.

“It is common knowledge that residents of the state in market places and otherwise can be seen without wearing masks or with masks worn below the nose level, which would result in the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19),” the court mentioned in its order.

“We further find that people get together in market places and in work environments without caring for their own health or the health of others. Surely, no resident or a citizen has the right to put his own life in jeopardy or put the life of others at risk,” the order added.

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The court observed that though various orders have been issued, they are being flouted because punitive action is not being taken against the violators.

The court directed that anybody violating the instructions to wear face masks, issued on May 8, will be punished as provided in the order.

“This order is being issued in view of the fact that the hospitals are overflowing with Covid-19 positive patients. Oxygen is already in short supply in the hospitals,” the order stated.

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The court directed the police department to be proactive on the streets and check whether the health department’s guidelines are being followed. It asked the police force to impose fines on those found violating norms.

Similarly, directions were also issued to deputy commissioners of all districts to involve officers from various departments to inspect areas in the respective towns and check whether police officers are complying with the court’s order.

“The direction that is being issued today is considering emergent conditions that have emerged as we have observed on the streets, at this stage, and the dangers associated with spread of the pandemic,” the order read.

The matter has been listed for September 17, the next date of hearing.

Assam has recorded 118,333 Covid-19 positive cases till date with 330 deaths and 90,697 recoveries.

Last week, health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma informed that the monthly requirement for oxygen is at present nearly 25 metric tonnes against the state’s production of 37.86 metric tonnes.

Of this, nearly 8.25 metric tonnes of Oxygen is being supplied to COVID-19 patients at present. Sarma had expressed an apprehension that if the present trend of rise in COVID-19 positive cases continues, there might be a problem in getting adequate oxygen supply in future.

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