COVID-19 PIL: Mass quarantining permissible, says Bombay HC

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COVID-19 PIL: Mass quarantining permissible, says Bombay HC
Nagpur, May 12 () Individual interest must yield tolarger public interest and if a situation like the outbreak ofa contagious epidemic demands, then mass quarantining ispermissible, the Bombay High Court said on Tuesday.

Justice A S Kilor of the Nagpur bench of the HC washearing a petition filed by local resident Mohammad Nishatclaiming that Nagpur civic authorities had illegally detained1,408 people from Satranjipura and Mominpura areas on theground that they were high-risk contacts of COVID-19 patients.

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According to the petitioner's advocate, TusharMandlekar, the authorities randomly picked 1,408 people and,thus, violated prescribed protocols and guidelines issued bythe Union government and Indian Council of Medical Research(ICMR).

Mandlekar argued only persons found to be coronaviruspositive or their high-risk contacts can be detained andquarantined for 14 days.

He said these 1,408 people do not fall under thesecategories and, hence, detaining them amounts to infringementof their fundamental rights, he said.

The civic authorities, however, refuted the claims andsaid only high-risk contact persons were sent to quarantinefacilities.

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The court in its order noted that it was of the primafacie opinion that the contention raised in the petition iswithout any substance.

"Inconvenience of some should be bypassed for a largerinterest or cause of the society," the court said.

"Time is of the essence in a quarantine situation,perhaps the best way in the present unprecedented situation tobalance conflicting interests between individual's rights andpublic health is to allow for immediate quarantine forpreventing spread of contagious and infectious COVID-19," itsaid.

"I am of the prime facie view that if the situation sodemands and the extreme outbreak of a contagious disease isestablished by the authorities, then mass quarantining ispermissible in the interest of larger society," the courtsaid.

The court noted that from May 5, when the petition washeard, and till date, the number of COVID-19 patients inNagpur had reached 298 from 156.

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"Those persons who have tested positive are mostlythose who have been quarantined. Of these, 99 COVID-19positive patients are from the Satranjipura area, whereas 139are from Mominpura area. It is pertinent to note that thepopulation of these two hotspots is more than three lakh," thecourt said.

"In such contingency, when an extreme outbreak ofespecially a contagious disease like coronavirus is beingposed as a threat to public, safety and security of thegeneral public is of paramount importance," Justice Kilorsaid.

The bench noted that if the behaviour or movement ofany individual poses a significant risk or harm to themselvesor their community, then, to control the threat, if theauthorities act in larger interest, then people cannot claimto enjoy the right to movement free from any interference.

"In such a situation, rights of citizens would alwaysbe subject to reasonable restrictions," the court said.

The court further held that if the authorities had nottaken the measures of institutional quarantine of high-riskcontacts from Satranjipura and Mominpura areas of Nagpur, thenthe number of COVID-19 cases would have climbed further asthese two areas are highly congested and densely populated.

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"Even though quarantine is a curtailment of civilliberties, measures taken to quarantine persons from these twoareas cannot be termed as to negate right to life, but in factit will only protect right to life guaranteed under Article 21of the Constitution for achieving a larger public interest,"the court said.

The bench has, however, ordered for an expertcommittee to be set up to give an opinion on the petitioner'scontention that quarantine facilities at MLA Hostel and theVisvesvaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT) hostelwere not as per guidelines issued by the Union government.

The court said authorities shall ensure the personsquarantined shall have enough supply of basic needs and properhygiene and be updated about their health regularly. CLSSPBNM BNM
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