In the case of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam v. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors., through a petition, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the principal opposition party in Tamil Nadu, had assailed the legality of a Press Release issued by the Information and Public Relations Department of the state requiring all such people/ organization, engaged in distributing essential commodities, to seek prior permission from the District authorities during the lockdown for COVID-19 crisis.
The press statement stipulated that the items for distribution to the public should be handed over to the Corporation Commissioner or President or Executive Officers or Block Development Officer of the Town Panchayats. It is presented by the Advocate General that often the organizers gather huge crowd during the distribution of food and other items, increasing the likelihood of spread of the disease.
The bench does not find any irrationality or arbitrariness in requiring the individual or group of individuals from seeking prior permission from the authorities concerned and it is very much essential that the organisers or the beneficiaries must strictly adhere to certain norms to regulate the distribution of food and other items. The court, however, held the other stipulation concerning handing over the items for distribution to the Commissioner or other instrumentalities of the Government did not arise. In view thereof, the following directions have been issued for distribution of food and other items:
- The petitioner organisation or other similar organisation, non-governmental organisations, individuals or group of individuals shall intimate the District authorities concerned, as already notified by the government, 48 hours in advance before distribution of food and other materials to the poor;
- As far as distribution of food is concerned, on receipt of such intimation, the Food Safety Officer concerned shall cause an inspection of the place where the food is likely to be distributed with respect to the health condition of the person (s) who is/are engaged in the preparation of the food as well as the quality of the food to be served. After the Food Safety Officer is satisfied with the above norms, the petitioner party can proceed with the distribution of food;
- It is made clear that the preparation and distribution of food have to be effected within the zone, in respect of Corporation limits and within the police Station limits in rural areas. However, there shall not be any distribution of food within the areas earmarked as ‘hot spots’ by the Government;
- It is further made clear that the distribution of the food has to be completed within a time to be specified. However, in case, if the distribution of food could not be completed within the time, the District authorities can consider extending the time on their discretion by one or two hours;
- The place where the food is likely to be served has to be sanitised by the authorities concerned before effecting distribution so that it will be fit for such distribution of food;
- The State can deploy police officials to regulate the recipient of food;
- The State shall permit three organisers, excluding the driver, who organise the distribution of food, along with an elected representative, to be present at the venue;
- More than three persons shall not travel in one vehicle to carry the food items to the place of distribution and they shall strictly adhere to the preventive measures announced by the Government in the exercise of powers under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure;
- The petitioner organisation or other similar organisation, non-governmental organisations, individuals or group of individuals shall strictly ensure that social distancing norm is followed during the distribution of food and there is no deviation, whatsoever;
- It is well open to the District authorities to impose such other condition (s) that may be reasonable to ensure that the distribution of food is effected without deviation of any of the norms.
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