Shillong(Meghalaya), April 17: The Meghalaya High Court has directed the State government to register case under appropriate provisions of law against person, Durbar Shnong or organisation which obstructs the State authorities in the control of the pandemic or any matter connected thereto, such as cremation and burial of victims.
The order was passed today by the division bench of the High Court on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Meghalaya High Court Bar Association in connection with the refusal by Nongpoh Dorbar Shnong and residents of Mawbah to allow burial or cremation of the body of Dr. John Sailo Ryntathiang who died of coronavirus (COVID-19).
“That any person, local body/Durbar Shnong or organisation which obstructs the State authorities in the control of the pandemic or any matter connected thereto, such as dead body management, cremation and burial shall be dealt with in accordance with law and cases to be registered under appropriate provisions of law,” the High Court said.
The court also directed the State government to sensitise the public especially where the cremation or burial grounds are situated to avoid any further unfortunate incident as had been witnessed here .
The High Court also directed the State authorities to take stern action for enforcement of the rule of law, especially in the light of the incidents that took place at Mawbah here On Wednesday wherein the public had broken the curfew and all social distancing norms, in coming out in protest against the proposed cremation of Dr John Sailo Ryntathiang.
The court also directed the State authorities to strictly follow the guidelines on dead body management as prescribed by the Government of India and by the World Health Organisation (WHO) such as the supply of personal protective equipments (PPEs) to the detailed staff, apart from notifying the same for the information of the general public for their sensitisation.
Further, the High Court directed the State Health Department to immediately ensure the testing of the primary contacts and also in the event that the same is not possible to be conducted immediately, to place the persons who have voluntarily come forward in quarantine, till such test has been conducted and to render adequate assistance as required.
The court also directed the State authorities to ensure that adequate assistance is rendered to the patients who are stranded in Bethany Hospital, Shillong and also who are housed in the other quarantine facility and that adequate food and water be made available for which the help of the civil society can also be availed to procure the same for distribution.
The High Court also directed that the authorities have to ensure that personnel are available with adequate personal protection to receive the food packets for distribution to the inmates.
Moreover, the High Court also directed the State government to adhere to the procedure of handling COVID-19 suspects and infected cases as contained in the protocol dated March 25, 2020.
It may be mentioned that during hearing of the PIL today, senior lawyer S P Mahanta drew the attention of the High Court to the manner of opening shops and establishments keeping social distance in mind, the need to check the rise in prices of essential commodities, the aspect of financial aid to the daily wagers and labourers and also the identification of the beneficiaries for the purpose of providing financial aid to the daily wage earners and labourers.
Mahanta also voiced the concern that there should not be any victimisation of the persons requiring assistance and help, and that their grievances be addressed. He further submitted that there is a need for setting up screening booths in adequate numbers, and that the government should be directed to disclose the number of PPEs and test kits available with the government and their availability thereof, to the hospitals and health centres across the State.
Mahanta also submitted that there is no designated COVID-19 hospital and that no notification has been issued with regard to the manner in which the State would handle the burial and cremation of the persons who fall victim to this virus and also the manner in which the quarantine centres are managed, more particularly after the detection of positive cases in the city of Shillong.
Kaustav Paul, vice president of the High Court Bar Association in his arguments raised extreme urgent concerns with regard to the events that have transpired since April 13, when the first positive COVID-19 case was detected in Shillong which had led to the to the death of senior doctor, and flagged the incompetent manner in which the State authorities handled the situation.
Paul told the High Court that Bethany Hospital apart from IIM, Shillong had been identified as quarantine facilities and that the patients and occupants of Bethany Hospital have not been given any assistance or adequate food and water and that they are on the point of starvation.
He said that even though food was arranged and supplied from outside by citizens themselves to feed the inmates, there were no personnel in place to receive the food packets for distribution and the road leading to Bethany Hospital had been sealed and barricaded thus preventing the aid reaching the stranded patients and inmates.
Paul also submitted that though the COVID-19 positive case was detected since April 13 and persons who had come in contact with the doctor had come forward, the test of these persons who were in primary contact with the doctor are yet to be conducted.
He further said that the State government has not taken any measures to effectively address this aspect of the matter, which is of extreme importance. He vehemently told the court that another aspect which has shocked the conscience of the society is the incident that occurred on April 15 wherein the local bodies prevented the cremation and burial of the senior doctor who had expired.
Paul said that appropriate directions were necessary to be issued to meet such situations and that the actions of the local bodies were in violation of law and that the persons involved are liable to be punished accordingly.
Paul also flagged the concern that though the testing of the primary contact is yet to be completed, the East Khasi Hills district administration has relaxed the curfew and has allowed over 1500 shops to open, which he said might lead to disastrous consequences. He therefore urged the court to monitor the manner and method in which the State authorities are dealing with the crisis to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Another lawyer, Kishore Ch. Gautam told the High Court that to avoid such unpleasant occurrences as had happened on April 15, it is of prime importance that the State authorities enlighten the general public and sensitise them accordingly to make them aware as to the actual facts and circumstances of such situation.
By Special arrangement with Highland Post