Set up expert committees to assess COVID-19 impact: HC to Manipur government

The high court directed the state government to to share all information without any discrimination except those which are exempted under the provision of section 8 RTI Act with the general public relating to any action taken by it towards combating COVID-19 crisis.

The Manipur High Court division bench comprising Justice Lanusungkum Jamir and Justice Kh Nobin on Thursday directed the state government to constitute various committees consisting of experts in all major departments so as to collect information, relevant data, discuss with the stakeholders including CSOs, farmers, entrepreneurs, workers etc to assess the impact of COVID-19 crisis.

The reports with suggested remedial measures should be submitted to the state government through respective departments so that an effective action plan can be made well in advance, said the division bench.

The high court directed the state government to share all information without any discrimination except those which are exempted under the provision of section 8 RTI Act with the general public relating to any action taken by it towards combating COVID-19 crisis including the one relating to spending public money, infrastructure, manpower, facilities in the quarantine centres and in particular, the institutional quarantine centres for combating COVID-19 crisis.

The court also directed the state government to frame exhaustive rules and regulations to regulate the functioning of the state government towards combating COVID-19 crisis or modify suitably the existing SOP, depending upon the change of circumstances touching on all aspect of the matter and keeping in mind the shortcomings, difficulties, drawbacks, complaints from the public faced by the state government in the recent past, to meet any kind of eventuality so that there would be no occasion for the public to raise any voice.

The Manipur Human Rights Commission has also been directed to submit its bills to the state government towards the expenditure incurred by it while conducting spot inquiries within a week. In the event of such bills being submitted, the state government should consider and make the payment as quickly as possible, within a month from the date of receipt of the bills.

The high court’s directive came following a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by J Hillson Angam in connection with issues faced by quarantine centres and also to ensure that these centres provide clean and hygienic environment by sanitizing and disinfecting the premises on a daily basis.

Accordingly, the high court had also directed MHRC to inquire and investigate quarantine centres in the state. All respondents have submitted their affidavit before the High Court.

The court in its judgement acknowledged that the state government took a lot of pain in organizing manpower, finance, infrastructure etc. when a large number of stranded persons were brought back to Imphal via Jiribam within a few days only. However, the court feels that the “hectic job” could have been avoided to a great extent, had the state government taken action on time. COVID-19 crisis started in the latter part of the year 2019 and had been spreading uninterrupted till date, observed the court.

People in Manipur started getting full information about the pandemic in February 2020 and asked the public to avoid public meetings, ritual ceremonies, large gatherings in any form and to desist from organizing 'thabal chongba' during and after holi festivals.

The moment the government and the health department came to know about COVID-19 crisis, it could have constituted a committee of experts, either in the month of February, 2020 or March, 2020, or even in the early part of April, 2020 after the lockdown was announced by the government of India. The committee could have given the report and based on this, relevant rules and regulations could have been framed well in advance In the month of April, 2020 itself, said the court.

The court also observed that stranded persons started expressing their desire to return to Manipur and requested the state government to assist them. Although the state government was not aware of the exact number, it had a rough idea about the number of stranded persons and accordingly, it could have arranged proper quarantine centres, it added.

First Published:July 17, 2020, 2 a.m.

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