The Supreme Court Thursday rejected a PIL filed by retired bureaucrats alleging gross mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic by the central government as the number of those infected by the virus has crossed 63 lakh in the country.
A bench headed by Justice L.N. Rao was told by advocate Prashant Bhushan that on February 4, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had issued an advisory but international passengers were not screened until March 4.
Bhushan said the 'Namaste Trump' event was allowed to happen on February 24 and one lakh people had gathered at a stadium despite the MHA advisory that crowding should be avoided.
He submitted that experts had advised against a full lockdown due to which the GDP contracted by an unprecedented 23 per cent, while crores of jobs were lost and the economy destroyed.
Bhushan contended that the government has been unable to control COVID-19 and as per official figures, over 63 lakh people have been infected by the virus.
He claimed that the lockdown was unilaterally announced by the government without consulting the experts.
He said before the imposition of lockdown, no steps were taken to procure PPE kits due to which several doctors lost their lives.
He said several policemen have also lost their lives due to COVID and added these issues require inquiry.
Bhushan said as per figures over two crore salaried people have lost their jobs. He also referred to the issue of migration during the lockdown and said that the infection has spread across the country.
The bench said that this is a matter for public debate, not for the court. "We are not inclined to interfere."
It added that these are matters for the government to look into and the authorities should be given the latitude.
The petition filed by a group of petitioners including retired bureaucrats alleged that the Centre failed to undertake timely and effective measures for containing transmission of the virus and an independent inquiry by a commission, appointed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1952, was essential to inquire into the "lapses".
The petition, filed through Bhushan, has claimed that the Centre's response to the pandemic and its "deleterious impact" on the lives and livelihoods of the citizens is a "definite matter of public importance and warrants appointment of a commission" under section 3 of the Act.
The plea has claimed that the nationwide lockdown, which had commenced from March 25 and the manner in which it was implemented, has had a "devastating impact" on jobs, livelihood and the overall economy.
It alleged that the nationwide lockdown, which was announced on March 24, was "arbitrary, irrational and without due consultation with experts or state governments''.
"In spite of being the harshest and most restrictive lockdown in the world, it has failed to arrest the spread of the disease," the plea claimed and also referred to the "exodus" of migrant workers and daily wagers during the lockdown from cities to their respective home towns.
It alleged that the authority has also failed in drawing up a national plan and issuing guidelines for providing minimum standards of relief to vulnerable sections of the society under the Disaster Management Act 2005.
The plea alleged that there was delay in ensuring adequate supplies of personal protective equipment for the safety of healthcare workers during the pandemic.
It claimed that the Centre has failed to undertake effective measures for containing the transmission of virus even after being notified about it by the World Health Organization (WHO) in early January this year.
The plea has alleged that these lapses "while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a severe infraction of the fundamental rights of people".
It claimed that prior to March 4 and during the months of January and February, the authorities have failed to conduct screening and surveillance of an adequate number of international passengers.