Delhi HC rejects trust's plea to enter containment area

Delhi HC rejects trust's plea to enter containment area for COVID-19 relief work

An East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) worker sprays disinfectant on a wall at CRPF Camp Mayur Vihar, during a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, in New Delhi, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. Credit: PTI Photo

The Delhi High Court has dismissed a charitable trust's petition seeking permission to enter a containment area to do relief work, saying such pleas have "propensity to seriously impede" efforts of authorities to control spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

The Civilian Welfare and Developm Trust had sought permission to enter the Chandni Mahal containment area in central Delhi to distribute ration and other material stored in its godowns there.

Justice C Hari Shankar said the plea was "totally bereft of substance" or any material to indicate that essential commodities are not being made available to all persons located in the Chandni Mahal containment area by the authorities.

The high court said such pleas "cannot be styled as public interest litigations, but are, in fact, inimical to public interest".

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Justice Shankar also noted in his order that he had earlier on April 15 dismissed a similar plea of the same trust with cost of Rs 10,000, but it was again re-agitating the issue now.

The trust, in its defence, said it was not re-agitating the issue as it had not on the earlier occasion brought to the court's attention provisions of the Disaster Management Act which would permit the organisation to access the containment area.

However, the court said that none of the provisions of the Act support the trust's plea to enter the containment area and distribute ration and other material, stated to be contained in its godowns, amongst the needy persons.

The judge said that in the earlier matter of April 15, he had categorically opined that "there could be no question of allowing any person to enter a containment area".

"The very purpose of designating an area as a 'containment area' is to ensure that ingress and egress of the public, to and from such area, is avoided.

"The measure is an extreme one and has been resorted to, only in view of the unforeseen and unprecedented, and, admittedly, emergent situation, in which the country finds itself, in the wake of the global COVID-2019 pandemic," the court said in its order passed on Monday.

The April 15 order had come while dismissing the trust's plea seeking contempt action against Delhi government officials for not issuing it travel passes to enter the containment area for relief work.

A cost of Rs 10,000 was also imposed on the organisation for moving the contempt plea.

Subsequently, the trust had challenged the April 15 order before a division bench of Justices Manmohan and Sanjeev Narula which on April 27 dismissed the appeal saying it constituted an obstruction of officials work and was not in public interest.

Justice Shankar, in his order of April 27, also said it was "unfortunate" that an organization which calls itself the 'Civilian Welfare and Development Trust' was "repeatedly filing such petitions" to have access to a containment area.

The court said such actions were "directly in conflict with public interest and in stark violation of the provision of the Disaster Management Act and the very purpose of notifying the Chandni Mahal area as a 'containment area'."

The judge said as he had already once imposed costs on the trust he was refraining from doing so once again, even though imposition of punitive costs may have been "eminently justified". 

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