Govt. Can Impose Restriction Under Disaster Management Act in Public Interest During Pandemic: MP High Court

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The Madhya Pradesh High Court stated that when the loss of life or human suffering or damages are on large scale, then the Central and the State Government is empowered to put any restriction. The High Court also stated that it would not exercise its powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to interfere in the policy decisions taken by the State Government for ensuring the interest of the public.

Facts of the matter

The petitioner is an association registered under the Madhya Pradesh Society Registrikaran Adhiniyam, 1973. The members of the association have a permit to ply inter-State transport passengers buses. However, the Government, owing to the spread of the Covid virus imposed various restrictions. Additionally, the State Transport Department of Madhya Pradesh decided to stop operating buses from the territory of Madhya Pradesh to the territory of Maharashtra and vice versa, as a large number of Covid cases were reported in the State of Maharashtra. Aggrieved by this, a petition was filed by the association with a prayer to permit the petitioners to ply buses between the States with reasonable restrictions.

Arguments before the Court

The petitioner submitted that the Ministry of Home Affairs had issued guidelines to the States and UTs for issuing norms for regulating travel in other modes of public transport and to ensure that the same are strictly complied with; activities were permitted outside the containment zones and it included the movement of passengers, rail, air travel, metro train, schools etc. Furthermore, it was stated by the petitioner that there was no restriction on movement of passengers by means of air and rail and by restricting inter-State bus service, the Government was discriminating and that it was in violation of Article 19(1) (g) of the Constitution of India.

According to the petitioner, “the members of the association have the fundamental right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business which cannot be restricted by the State Government.” According to the petitioner, the restriction put on the association is without any valid justification.

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According to the counsel appearing for the respondent stated that the restrictions were imposed to protect the inhabitants of Madhya Pradesh and that the State had passed the order in accordance with the powers conferred under Section 24 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Furthermore, it was submitted by the State that transportation by trains and airways is under the jurisdiction of the Centre and the State transport is under the jurisdiction of State; hence, it could not be compared.

Observations of Madhya Pradesh High Court

On perusal of the submissions made by the parties, the Court observed that,

in transportation through airways and railways the entry and exit points of passengers are fixed and the passengers can be checked about their health conditions but it is not possible in transportation by buses, as busses can be stopped anywhere.

Additionally, the Court stated that Section 24(1) gives power to the Central and the State Government to take steps as required during any threatening disaster situation.

In normal situation the action of the State Government can be examined in respect of putting restriction on any trade and business, but in the case of a pandemic, the Centre or the State Government is empowered to put any restriction on the larger public interest.

Court’s Decision

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The Court disposed of the matter and stated that further restrictions on transportation should be taken after assessing the facts and figures of Covid-19 cases and not in a mechanical manner.

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