Amidst the dreadful resurgence of Covid, Calcutta High Court (coram: Radhakrishnan, CJ; and Arijit Banerjee, J) has cracked the whip.
This is clear from the order of the Division Bench which has directed West Bengal’s chief electoral officer and all District Magistrates to abide by the norms relating to Covid, and endorsed by the Election Commission. Should the need arise, those connected with the elections have been asked to seek police help. (The law-enforcement authorities need to go beyond firing bullets at the wayward, as happened recently in Cooch Behar district).
The High Court has pronounced its order on an issue that is close to the bone, not the least because of the crowds that turn up during the respective campaigns and the long queues on voting day with scant regard for distancing. A year and more after the pandemic, people are relatively impervious to the scourge, both in terms of using masks and maintaining social distance. The general public consciousness was greater a year ago, though the resurgence has been more forbidding in April 2021 than it was in April 2020.
The Bench has suggested that the administration can enforce prohibitory orders under Section 144 to ensure physical distancing, making it clear that “we are dealing with an extraordinary situation and this calls for extraordinary measures”.
Towards that end, the High Court has sought a compliance report from Bengal’s chief electoral officer when the matter comes up for hearing again on April 19. In a warning to law-enforcement authorities and those who flout public health certitudes, the Bench has directed that “stringent measures must be taken against persons who fail, neglect or refuse to obey the Covid protocol. Callous and irresponsible attitude or behaviour of some of the members of society cannot be permitted to endanger the lives of other members of society”.
The fineprint of the caveat must be that it has been addressed to society in general, the police, and compulsive violators of the law. That caveat assumes a sharper edge when the court observes that the measures it has mentioned are “absolutely necessary to avert a deadly disaster that is staring at our faces in the form of a possible galloping rise in Covid-19 cases”.
From Maharashtra to West Bengal, the risk is dangerously real. Hence the court’s four-point guideline for immediate implementation ~ mandatory masks at all gatherings, liberal distribution of sanitisers, safe distance norms and a direction to the administration to ensure large congregations are avoided. It is imperative, therefore, to arouse public consciousness.