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Patna High Court Issues Directions to Obligate Govt. of Bihar to Provide Valid Data on Death Due to COVID-19 [READ ORDER]

The Government of Bihar is greatly unwilling to put in the public realm, the accurate data of deaths that occurred in Bihar during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Patna High Court observed.

By: Sachin Jain, Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi

The Bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S. Kumar reminded the State Government that the right to information as embodied in Article 19 of the Constitution of India is also a part of Article 21.

The Bench also put forward questions, firstly, as to whether more than ten crore people of the State of Bihar have a right to know, on a digital platform, the number of deaths that occurred in Bihar during the time of Covid-19, and secondly, whether the Government has a corresponding duty to disclose as mandated by law.

The Patna High Court also noted that even after continuous affirmations, the Digital Portal maintained by the Bihar Government, the valid statistical data was not being uploaded sometimes.

Furthermore, the bench clarified that it was not only concerned with the right of the individual to upload information on the portal, rather, but it was also concerned with “Whether the functionaries authorized under the Statutes are uploading the information and whether such information, of course maintaining the confidentiality of the identity of the deceased, is made known through the Digital Portal to the general public or not. To this, there is no answer.”

Considerably, the Advocate General on June 12, submitted that no public representatives are responsible or answerable for providing information to be uploaded on the portal and that there is also no mandate of law anywhere to publish data of deaths on the portal. The court finely remarked this objection legally unsustainable while observing the provisions of the Statutes (Acts) and the Bihar Registration of Births and Deaths Rules, 1999.

“We are not unmindful that the information of fatalities arising out of Covid-19 is in the public domain. If that were so, then what is the reluctance to upload general information concerning all deaths that occurred during this period, be it for whatever reason,” the court observed.

The Bench also emphasized that the provisions of the Right to Information Act put a great duty on all public authorities to provide and communicate required information unless it is protected by law. The data collection process for the births and deaths is a crucial exercise, especially during this Pandemic time. 

“Also, in maintaining the correct statistics so that we as a Nation can be prepared for the Third Wave of COVID Pandemic,” added the Court.

The Court underlined that various digital access programmes as initiated by the Government of India and Government of Bihar that are existing or ongoing mainly initiated to align them with the principles of Digital India.

Greatly, the Court emphasized that “Neither the Government, be it the State Government or the Union, nor us, including the common man can shirk their responsibilities in the dire situation that the entire Nation is facing during this pandemic.”

The Bench, while citing that even if it is hypothetically assumed that Rules are not available to provide for making the information available to the general public, observed that it could come out with such legislation, subordinate, delegated or otherwise as it has legislative power and competence under Entry 30, List III, Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India.

Concluding the above discussion, the Court issued the following directions:

  • The Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 (Act No. 18 of 1969) and also the Right to Information Act, 2005, gives a right to a person in almost unequivocal terms of their access to information and therefore, the Digital Portals should be made accessible to the general public with regular and timely updates.

It is needless to say that private information of deceased individuals will still be protected under the Right to Privacy read into Article 21 of the Constitution but has to be balanced with ‘General public awareness and information dissemination.

  • The Government of Bihar is under an obligation to the citizens of India, more so the residents of the State, to provide information on the Digital Portal regarding the number of deaths, be it for whatever the reason, that has occurred during the COVID 19 Pandemic.
  • The State is under a duty under the Registration Act to facilitate the right of any person to cause a search, and for that to happen, the Digital Portal maintained by different entities must be updated immediately.
  • The concerned authority to take steps to integrate ease of access, in consonance with the larger aims of the Digital India program and others highlighted in our order.
  • The information to be updated regularly on the digital portal shall be done in line with the right to privacy, recognized under the Constitution.

Elected representatives upon whom an obligation has been placed, by relevant statutes/orders, as discussed, are duty-bound to disclose the number of deaths that occurred in their constituencies within twenty-four (24) hours.

  • The state is obligated to provide accurate information to fight the infodemic on the one hand and heal the systemic neglect on the other.
  • The Government of Bihar shall take all necessary action for sensitizing the general public, especially in the rural areas, of their Constitutional and Statutory right of uploading and obtaining information on the digital portal.
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Plea In Supreme Court For Seeking Revival and Extension of “AYUSH-NPCDCS” Integrated Project

Ayush Doctors And Yoga Instructors have proceeded before the Hon’ble Supreme Court for seeking recommendations for revival and extension of the captioned project with the same force, in all 6 districts and expeditious completion of the entire practice through the “National Ayush Mission.”

By: Sachin Jain, Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi

The plea titled Dr Sree Hanumantha Rao Nalla and Others Vs Union of India filed through Adv. Alakh Alok Srivastava, is eligible to be listed for hearing before the Apex Court on the 1st of July this year.

The plea has also aimed to seek some recommendations to the States to submit their respective proposals for the integration of AYUSH with NPCDCS through their respective State Annual Action Plan, mainly Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar, Rajasthan, UP and West Bengal.

The plea contended that from April 30, 2021, Respondents have closed the said “AYUSH-NPCDCS” project in an immoral and unfair way, and conclusively lead to complete indifference in benefits being rendered by the “AYUSH-NPCDCS” integrated project to the lakhs of residents of India.

The plea also noted that the Petitioners have greatly performed their duties during the COVID-19 pandemic as COVID warriors from March 2020 to April 2021, and the “AYUSH-NPCDCS” integrated pilot project ought to have been continued.

Terminating the petitioners’ services and later on reviving the asserted project under NAM will definitely require new recruitment and training also, which eventually will be much time as well as money consuming practice. They argued as they stated themselves as duly qualified & trained Doctors and Yoga Instructors.

The Ministry of Labour and Employment had notified all the Employers of Public as well as Private establishments to not to terminate their employees amid deadly pandemic.

Further, the decision to stop the captioned project and terminate the employment of the Petitioners contravenes the D.O. dated March 20, 2020, plea stated. 

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Jaipal Bhullar Encounter – Serious Allegations Against Punjab Police : Father’s Plea For Second Postmortem

The Supreme Court has set aside an order passed by the Punjab and Haryana HC which dismissed the petition filed by the father of accused Jaipal Bhullar, who was killed in a fake police encounter by Punjab police at Kolkata, asking State of Punjab to get a second postmortem examination on his son’s dead body.

By: Darshana Pagare ILS, Pune.

A vacation bench requested the High Court of Punjab and Haryana to decide the petition filed on Monday itself 21st june. The High Court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction since the petitioner’s son had died in Kolkata, West Bengal, which is outside its jurisdiction and the post-mortem had also been conducted by the doctors of Kolkata.

“There are serious allegations against the Punjab police. The Punjab Police is alleged to be involved in the encounter in which the petitioner’s son was killed. The dead body of the petitioner’s son is brought to Punjab and it is presently in Punjab. The petitioner alleged that the Punjab Police has resorted to manipulation of the post-mortem report” the Bench said.

It was noted that with serious issues of human rights involved, the Court directed the State of Punjab to make necessary arrangements for proper preservation and storage of the dead body. 

In the hearing, the Advocate appearing for the petitioner Bhupinder Singh (Jaipal Bhullar’s father), said that the petitioner was Instructed not to open the dead body as it was chemically treated. But, when he got back to Punjab, he opened the dead body, which had multiple injuries, and is thus alleging that this is a case of custodial death. He further urged the Court that the body of the petitioner’s son be stored properly, if the body would decompose, the more the evidence against Police would disappear. 

But, when he got back to Punjab, he opened the dead body, which had multiple injuries, and is thus alleging that this is a case of custodial death.

Through the present Special Leave Petition filed, the petitioner father sought directions for the post mortem of his son, Jai Pal Singh Bhullar, at PGI, Chandigarh or any other independent medical institution saying that his son has mercilessly been tortured to death under the guise of a fake encounter.

According to the petition filed, the petitioner’s son was alleged and termed a “gangster” by the Punjab Police, tortured in custody and killed at the young age of 39 years at the behest of the Police Constabulary.

“The Petitioner solicits a re-autopsy find out the truth of his son’s death and to dispel his strong suspicion of foul play in the death or murder of his son. It is the firm belief of the Petitioner that his son died due to custodial violence, torture and abuse of police power,” the plea stated.

The petitioner argued that the second postmortem examination is not only aimed at finding the cause of death but is aimed at addressing other medico-legal issues related to arrest. Even though the son of the Petitioner was suspected to have broken the existing law of the land, the Police Officials had a legal and an ethical duty to safeguard and ensure his human rights, the plea said.

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Irrespective of comorbidities, all the deaths after diagnosis of COVID-19 should be classified as deaths due to COVID-19: Central govt to Supreme Court

The Central government told the Supreme Court that all the deaths after diagnosis of COVID-19, irrespective of comorbidities should be classified as deaths due to COVID-19.

By: Sunayna Jain, Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal.

In the case of Gaurav Kumar Bansal V. Union of India, the Central government has informed the Supreme Court that all deaths with a diagnosis of COVID-19, irrespective of comorbidities, are to be classified as deaths due to COVID-19.

The Ministry of Home Affairs told the Supreme Court that Death certificates can avoid COVID-19 as a cause only if there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be categorized to COVID-19.

The affidavit filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) stated “All deaths with a diagnosis of COVID-19, irrespective of co-morbidities, are to be classified as deaths due to COVID-19. The only exception could be where there is a clear alternative cause of death, that cannot be attributed to COVID-19 (e.g. accidental trauma, poisoning, acute myocardial infarction, etc), where COVID-19 is an incidental finding.”

A petition was filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court for providing ex-gratia compensation of Rs. 4 lakh to the family members of those who have died to COVID-19 or its side effects, or post COVID-19 diseases, including mucormycosis.

The petitioners, advocates Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal, have referred to Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act 2005, which said that national authority shall recommend guidelines for the minimum standards of relief to be provided to persons affected by disaster, which shall include ex-gratia assistance.

Senior Advoacte SB Upadhyay, representing the petitioners, had submitted that a certificate needs to be issued so that it can be established that the death is due to COVID-19.

During an earlier hearing on the present matter, the Court had questioned the Central government on whether there is a uniform policy on death certificates because in some cases the real cause of death as COVID is not mentioned.

The MHA has also stated in its affidavit that the question of issuance of death certificates, the registration of birth and death is done under the provisions of the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969.

And according to  Section 10 of the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, the information concerning the cause of death is filled-up by the medical practitioner attending to the deceased at the time of terminal illness, and the death certificate is sent to the Registrar where he registers the information related to the death event. Also, the cause of death cannot be disclosed by the Registrar to any person.

The MHA clarified “Hence, the extract/certificate of death does not include any information related to the cause of death of an individual, it is therefore most respectfully stated that the death certificate does not show the cause of the death of any individual.” 

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in the affidavit has also stated that an ex gratia payment of Rs. 4 lakh to kin of each COVID-19 deceased would not be possible as “resources of the government have limits” and if such ex -gratia amounts are allowed then the entire amount of State Disaster Relief Fund will end up being utilized for making such payments. 

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Lakshadweep Administration Contesting Recommendation To Shift Island’s Jurisdiction To Karnataka High Court From Present Kerala High Court

This has come to the scene when numerous cases were filed before the Kerala High Court against the Lakshadweep administration’s recent policies which have been impeded strongly.

By: Sachin Jain, Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi

Due to such extensive protests over its recent policies, the Lakshadweep Administration is contesting a recommendation to shift Kerala High Court’s legal jurisdiction over the islands to Karnataka High Court. 

The jurisdiction of the High Court can only be shifted through an act of the Parliament as per Article 241 of the Constitution of India. Also, Article 241, Clause (1), states that the Parliament may, by law, constitute a High Court for a Union Territory or make a court in the territory to be the High Court for any such purposes made by the Constitution.

The filing of numerous cases before the Kerala High Court against the new administrator of Lakshadweep, Praful Patel, regarding the recent policies viz., Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR), Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (Goondas Act) and Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulations (LAPR), which effectively introduce a ban on beef on the island, gave a strong rise to this scene.

Notably, in May this year, a plea has been filed before the Kerala High Court putting forward concerns that citizens have not been given reasonable opportunity to affirm their opinions and objections on the Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 (LDAR) and the Draft Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulations, 2021 (LAPR).

The plea sought a grant of extra 30 days for residents to give their remarks on the Draft LDAR and LAPR among other requests.

Residents of the Union Territory Lakshadweep have also come to the roads and social media to protest a few of these policy norms of the new administrator. 

Out of those, some include, the amendment of the Standard Operating Procedure for visiting the Islands during the COVID-19 pandemic, shattering hutments of fishermen and changing the standards for eligibility to stand for Panchayat Elections.

Eventually, the consequences of protests led to various arrests and also the sedition charges on filmmaker Aisha Sultana under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. However, on 17 June, the Kerala High Court granted her interim protection against arrest for a week.

Conclusively, the Kerala Assembly has newly passed an agreed resolution demanding that the new Administrator be noticed.

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