DIRECTIONS WITH RESPECT TO CORONAVIRUS
On the 9th of April, 2020, a division bench of the Karnataka High Court directed the Karnataka Government to institute measures for vulnerable communities, including the transgender community, in the light of the coronavirus outbreak and the resulting lockdown. Though this interim order does not identify its legal basis, these directions have arguably been issued under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution as they have been made in connection with writ petitions filed in the High Court seeking relief.
The first category of people to be dealt with in the order were migrant workers. The court divided the migrant workers into 3 categories: 1. Those who lived on the streets; 2. Those who lived on project sites; and 3. Those who lived in rental accommodation. Karnataka is divided into 30 districts. In this case, the reports submitted by the legal counsel of the Karnataka Legal Services Authority (KLSA) on the basis of the reports submitted by her district counterparts indicated that except in Mysuru District, the arrangements made for migrant workers, homeless persons, and stranded persons were reasonable. However, the performance on the Bengaluru Urban district with respect to these populations did not satisfy the court. 1/3rd of the positive cases from the State of Karnataka are from the Bengaluru Urban area but the Court found that the reports of the Bangalore Municipal Corporation (BBMP) and KLSA contradicted each other on the arrangements in place. As a result, the court could not ascertain how many new shelter homes had been created for the abovementioned vulnerable populations nor could they be sure of exactly how many people were on the streets and needed care. They directed the BBMP to clarify these numbers by the 13th of April. However, the court studied the BBMP report on this topic and concluded that there was no systematic effort made by them to ascertain how many migrants, homeless and stranded persons were squatting in public places and in need of care.
DEVADASIS AND RESIDENTS OF SLUMS
The court reminded the BBMP of its duty under the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976, specifically sub-clauses 22, and 29-31 of Section 58 of the Act which oblige the BBMP to “preventing and checking the spread of dangerous diseases” and to take “measures to meet the calamity affecting the public.” The court accordingly noted that this includes the migrant workers, homeless and stranded persons. The court found the BBMP efforts with respect to this population wanting especially because it had made no efforts to figure out the numbers of those migrant workers who were either homeless or lived on project sites. The court gave 2 days time to the BBMP (till the 12th of April) to submit a revised report explaining the actions taken by it.
The next population that the court provided orders for was the Devadasi population in a village near Koppal Town. The court found that after their plight was published in the local newspaper a few days ago, a district legal service authority member had visited them and after the visit, ration and utensils have been provided for them. After this, the court’s attention was drawn to residents of a particular slum area where demolition work had been carried out a few months prior. A local newspaper had reported that the residents of that slum had not been provided adequate relief following that demolition. The court ordered the BBMP to provide for this population in its report.
PROVISION OF MASKS AND SANITIZERS
Next, the court directed the State to provide masks and sanitizers all across the State, as it found that as per the State’s own projection, there was a shortfall of these items. Not only this, the court insisted on the principle of equitable distribution of sanitizers among medical/paramedical workers, and citizens. Further, at the next hearing, the court asked the State to respond whether private clinics could have PPE kits at cost, and as to what arrangements had been made by the State to find alternative ways to produce more protective gear (masks, gloves, suits, caps etc.) for medical professionals. The court also asked the State to respond as to what measures it had put in place to tackle the problem of hoarding of essential goods. The State government also informed the court that 808 members of the Tablighi Jamat were found in the State and had been quarantined and simultaneously, with respect to residents of Karnataka who were members of the Jamat and in other States, the relevant States had been informed.
The State government represented that 1657 members of the transgender community were getting a monthly pension of Rs. 600/- under the Mythri scheme, and in light of the current situation, it had been decided that 2 months advance pension would be forwarded to them. The court also directed the State that all eligible members of the transgender community should be entitled to the benefits of the Mythri scheme and should a transgender person make an application under the scheme, the appropriate authority must dispose of it as quickly as possible.
RATION WITHOUT RATION CARDS
The court directed the government to take a decision on how to supply ration to those who do not have ration cards. It pointed out that many members of the marginalized communities, including the communities mentioned above, and daily wage workers, may not have their ration cards. It suggested that in these situations, the government could still provide ration to them on the production of valid identity documents. The court also drew the attention of the government to the issue that some in the receipt of ration may actually be below the poverty line but may have no identity documents pertaining to the same. In the event that this happens, the court noted that the Chief Minister of the State had promised free ration as per a newspaper report, but nevertheless directed the government to take a decision on the matter by the 13th of April and report to the court.
The court noted that the State had assured that there was no shortage of medicines but in case there was, residents could complain through Arogya Sahayavani and directed the State to advertise the helpline numbers widely.
While the court did not make any orders for zoo animals, they specifically noted that the State in their written submissions have undertaken to provide adequate food for them. However, with respect to elephants in private custody and in temples or mutts, the court noted that the State intended to make sure that they have adequate food supplies, lacking which they would contact NGOs to help. The court ordered that the relevant data with respect to elephants in private custody be made available to the forest officer.
The next date of the hearing has been fixed to the 13th of April,2020.