Delhi HC ensured 'all hands on deck' to thwart Covid-19

Delhi HC ensured 'all hands on deck' to thwart Covid-19 in 2020

Representative image. Credit: iStock photo.

Covid-19, which brought the country to a standstill in March, did not deter the Delhi High Court from ensuring that people had access to justice and "all hands were on deck" to curb the spread of the deadly virus as also to provide treatment and basic amenities to those affected by it.

Before the pandemic brought the country to a grinding halt, the high court conducted two unprecedented midnight hearings, one related to north-east Delhi riots and the other to the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case.

Throughout the year, the high court dealt with a number of petitions relating to Covid-19, including pleas to provide adequate PPE kits to health workers, sanitation staff, medical cover to media persons reporting on the pandemic, payment of salaries to teachers, doctors, nurses, safai karamchaaris and retired employees of municipal corporations.

A day after the nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 25, the high court took no time to commence hearings via video conferencing of very urgent matters, and only lawyers appearing for each side were allowed the access.

In the riots case, a call was made at the residence of a judge explaining the dire circumstances wherein it was not possible to move the victims from a small hospital to a government hospital. The court directed the police to ensure their safe passage and emergency treatment.

The next day, the judge, Justice S Muralidhar, expressed "anguish" over Delhi Police's failure to register FIRs against alleged hate speeches by three BJP leaders. Hours later a notification was issued by the central government for his transfer to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Even as many in the legal community questioned the timing, Justice Muralidhar, during his farewell, apprised everyone that he was informed about the transfer much before he heard the riots case.

On late evening of March 19, three of the convicts in the Nirbhaya case approached the high court to stop their execution. However, their plea was dismissed by the high court as well as the Supreme Court and they were hanged on the morning of March 20.

During the initial phase of heaings via video-conferencing, the court dealt with the pleas of students and other citizens stranded abroad due to coronavirus and directed the authorities to take steps to evacuate them.

It also from time to time extended interim orders, including bail, issued by it and subordinate courts before the lockdown.

By June, when Unlock-1 was implemented, almost all benches of the high court began hearing matters via video conferencing which the general public was allowed to attend.

Following the Supreme Court orders, a high powered committee, headed by a senior Delhi High Court judge, was formed to reduce the number of inmates in over-crowded jails via parole and interim bail.

The high court also directed the Centre and the Delhi government to implement steps to curb domestic violence and protect the victims during the lockdown and to also ensure there was no dearth of food, water, electricity and sanitation requirements for homeless workers during the period.

It observed that in the present "emergent" situation when the country is struggling to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, "it is the need of the hour that all hands are on the deck" and suggested the government to appoint officers to address all problems faced by migrant and daily wage workers living in relief camps during the lockdown.

It also gave stern directions to the authorities to clear the arrears and pay salaries of the employees.

Besides, it asked the government to ensure that Covid-19 test samples sent to the accredited labs are processed swiftly and the results declared within 24-48 hours. Availability of beds -- both ICU and normal -- and ambulances were the other issues which the high court kept monitoring.

It kept pushing the Delhi government to go for RT-PCR tests, instead of Rapid Antigen Testing, but it was only after the per day cases crossed 8,000 in November and strictures were passed by the high court that the AAP administration "turned turtle" and "woke up" to the situation.

In September, the high court began physical hearings of matters on a smaller scale due to requests from a section of lawyers.

However, according to the high court data more than 90 per cent advocates preferred proceedings via video conferencing.

In October, the high court also decided to stop granting a blanket extension of interim orders, including bails and ordered the staggered surrender of the prisoners. However, the decision was put on hold by the Supreme Court.

In November, the high court decided to extend its restricted form of functioning till January 16, 2021.

Towards the year-end, by an interim order, it allowed Amazon to oppose before regulators a Rs 24,713 crore deal by Kishore Biyani-led Future Retail to sell assets to Reliance Retail but ruled that the US e-commerce giant's attempt to control Future Retail is violative of FEMA and FDI rules.

The other cases dealt with by the high court during the year related to actor Rakul Preet Singh's plea over media connecting her with the Rhea Chakraborty drug case as also the pleas challenging the election of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy CM Manish Sisodia for allegedly violating poll campaign norms in the recent assembly elections.

The court also set aside ex-law minister Jitender Tomar's election in 2015 polls for false declaration and refused to suspend BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar's life imprisonment for raping a minor girl in Unnao in 2017.