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During the Pandemic, Judicial Notice Can Be Issued Against Organizations Going Out of Their Way To Provide Special Facilities and Safeguard Health of Their Employees and Other Stakeholders: Delhi High Court

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Facts of the Case

In the present case, a writ petition was filed by the Students Union and the Teachers Union at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (hereinafter, “JNU”). Further, the Petitioners were seeking various directions to the Respondents including a direction for setting up COVID care facilities in the University Campus, including a COVID response team, and certain Oxygen facilities inside the University Campus premises. Earlier around the second week of April the Petitioners because of the outbreak of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, had written a letter to the Registrar of the Respondent University, highlighting the alarming situation on the JNU campus due to COVID-19. This Letter was endorsed for seeking various steps that were supposed to be taken for controlling the situation. Thereafter, on 18th April 2021, a notification was stated to have been issued by the Deputy Registrar of the JNU constituting a COVID-19 task force and a COVID-19 response team in JNU. Responding to the same, on 18th April 2021, another letter was sent by the Petitioners to the Registrar of JNU, stating the massive surge of the number of positive cases within the JNU campus premises and highlighting the need for urgent steps to be taken. The same was also comprehended in further letters on 19th April 2021 to the Vice-Chancellor, JNU, and on 23rd April 2021 to the ADM, New Delhi. Furthermore, the Petitioners contacted the SDM for setting up the isolation and quarantine facilities. But, despite issuing repeated letters to the authorities of the University, the Secretary of Ministry of Education, the Secretary of the University Grants Commission, etc., no action was taken for setting up a COVID care facility within the campus premises. Besides, repeated letters to the SDM of the area had also not evoked any response. Hence, the present petition had been filed.

Petitioner’s Arguments

Mr Abhik Chimni Counsel, appearing for the Petitioners submitted that the administration of the University including the Government. Authorities to whom letters were penned had been completely silent to the repeated requests of the Petitioners qua setting up a COVID care facility and oxygen production facilities and thereby, they were forced to approach the Court. Further, he capitulated that the right to life and health of all the residents/occupants on the campus was under severe jeopardy. He further submitted that there was no doubt that there is space within the JNU, and the SDM, and the administration in the JNU, ought to be directed to create a COVID care facility, within which the faculty and the other departments of the University were willing to cooperate. It was also submitted that the JNU administration was guilty of “dereliction of their duties.”

Respondent’s Arguments 

Ms Monika Arora, Learned Counsel, on the behalf of the Respondent- JNU submitted that since she was appearing on an advance copy, she does not have any instructions as to what steps had been taken within the University for dealing with the second wave of COVID-19 within the campus. Thereby, she sought time to take instructions from the relevant authorities. Further, Mr Aditya P. Khanna, Learned Counsel, on the behalf of the GNCTD and the SDM submitted that since the entire campus was within the control of the JNU administration, they were unable to do anything. However, if the administration permits, they are willing to coordinate with the faculty, students, and the administration, to set up a COVID care facility, which would be attached to some hospitals.

Court’s Observations

Considering the rigour of the current COVID-19 pandemic wave and the correspondence placed on record, there was no doubt that the JNU administration ought to have reacted with swiftness and alacrity. The first letter which was sent by the Petitioners on 13th April 2021, showed that it has been almost a month since the Petitioners had been following up but the same had completely failed to evoke a response. And further, if this was true, this would constitute gross neglect by the JNU administration in a situation that is completely alarming. Moreover, the University was bound to take care of the health of the students and teachers, and make the facilities available, to the extent possible, within the University campus, especially considering the prevalent shortages for hospital beds, etc. Besides this, a Judicial notice can also be taken of the fact that various organizations and institutions have gone out of their way, during the current pandemic, to make various facilities available to their employees and other stakeholders, to safeguard their health during the current surge of the COVID- 19 pandemic. And the JNU was not an exception in this regard. According to the writ petition, there were a total of 74 cases around 18th April 2021 which has increased to 211 as of 7th May 2021. If these figures were correct, then there has been a three-fold increase in the number of cases in just three weeks. 

Court’s Decision

Considering the above observations, the following directions were issued: i) The Registrar, JNU was immediately required to give instructions to the Learned Counsel, and file a status report, as to what are the steps taken by the administration of the JNU in respect of the requests since 2020 and especially since 13th April 2021. ii) The Vice-Chancellor/Registrar of JNU to ascertain the necessity and feasibility in respect of creation of the COVID care facility in the JNU campus and file a status report, considering proposals given (CSMCH) and any modifications required thereof. (iii) The SDM/ADM of the concerned area to place on record a status report, as to whether such a COVID care facility can be created at JNU, following the guidelines applicable, and if so indicating how the doctors and paramedics, as also nurses, would be made available for the said facility, and whether they would be tied up with any particular hospital, and if so, name the said hospital after obtaining its concurrence. The Registrar of the Respondent University was directed to convene meetings with the other internal administrative staff, concerned SDM/ADM of the area, six representatives of the Students and the Teachers Union, also the departments which have given the proposals.

Summing up, the status reports should explain the feasibility, modalities, and timelines for setting up of a covid care centre, preferably with oxygenated beds, as directed, be emailed by both the JNU administration as also the ADM/SDM of the concerned area, to the Court Master by 9 A.M., on 13th May 2021. 

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