Punjab & Haryana High Court: Administration may lay down the Parameters for Social Distancing during Distribution of Essential Items, may take actions against Violators

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The Punjab & Haryana High Court at Chandigarh in the case of Adityajit Singh Chadha vs Union of India & Ors, disposed of a petition with an observation that the Administration may lay down the parameters for social distancing at the time of distribution of essential items and monitor and regulate the same by taking stringent actions against the violators.

The petitioner placed on record additional material by way of an affidavit and laid challenge to the order dated 27.03.2020. Relying upon the various reports published concerning the origin and spread of Corona Virus, the petitioner made reference to the orders passed by the Bombay High Court and by one of the Deputy Commissioners of the State of Punjab.

Administration’s Response

The Chandigarh Administration is taking all necessary steps to fight the pandemic of ‘COVID 19’. After the first positive case of Corona was reported in Chandigarh, the Administration immediately issued order under Section 144 Cr.P.C, i.e., [the power to issue an order in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger], on 19.03.2020.

Specific people were made home quarantine to prevent the further spread of the disease and a Nodal Officer, assisted by a police team, was appointed for contact tracing and enforcing the same. A stamp was to be marked on the back of right hand of such person, along with relevant date.

The ‘Janta Curfew’, was announced to be observed by the Prime Minister on 22.03.2020, as a measure of social distancing to fight ‘COVID 19’, following to which a curfew was imposed on 23.03.2020.

The Chandigarh Administration assigned the senior officers the task of ensuring availability and continuation of supplies of essential items to the people. The buses of Chandigarh Transport Undertaking were used to provide food and vegetables. However, a huge crowd thronged the buses/trucks loaded with fruits, vegetables and the grocery items and it was realised that the very purpose of social distancing was being challenged.

It was not possible to maintain the supply chain for long without involving the traditional network of shops, and after receiving a number of complaints, and reviewing the law and order, the authorities were directed to issue necessary orders as per the guidelines of the Government of India.

The order dated 27.03.2020 did not end the curfew but a limited exemption was given to only one person from each household to walk to the nearest shops selling essential items. The home delivery system was encouraged. In a press conference held by the Administrator on 28.03.2020, all the decisions were taken after due deliberations and approval by the higher authority i.e. Administrator of U.T. Chandigarh.

Mr. S.P. Jain and Mr. Pankaj Jain, appearing on behalf of the respondents, fairly submitted that the respondents were receptive to receive the suggestions for improving the supply and distribution of essential items.

Mr. Patwalia, counsel for the petitioner submitted that- During the course of hearing, e-vending was to be prohibited. Mr. Pankaj Jain clarified to the same that in the fact e-vending is to be encouraged as per the norms laid down.

Patwalia also submitted that the fleet of buses can be utilized to distribute the essential items. Mr. Pankaj Jain submits that fleet of buses has been deployed to distribute the essential items at the doorstep. He even mentioned that while distributing the essential items, social distancing would be maintained. Mr. Patwalia submits that the specific parameters qua the social distancing be laid down and notified.

The order dated 27.03.2020 is valid and has been issued in the larger public interest. All the pros and cons were weighed before taking the decision.

“The court will not substitute their wisdom for the wisdom of the Administration during this crisis. Maintaining social distance is a sine qua non to control the disease. The Administration may also solicit opinion of the specialists of infectious/communicable disease, while taking a decision”.


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