Avoid cash fines for COVID-19 norms violation, HC tells AAP govt; alarmed at 2K deaths in November

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Updated: Nov 26, 2020 5:59 PM

With regard to Delhi government's submission that it has increased RT/PCR test numbers to 40,000 per day, the bench remarked that it came after much pushing and prodding by the court and after loss of a lot of lives.

The petition is still pending before the high court which from time to time has directed the Delhi government and civic authorities to develop an action plan.

The Delhi High Court Thursday said the police and the authorities concerned should avoid collecting fines in cash for violation of COVID-19 norms, while terming as alarming that the number of deaths due to the virus in the national capital has crossed 2,000 in November.

The high court sought to know from the AAP government the steps it was taking on various fronts in view of the pandemic from collection and utilisation of fines to ensuring protocols were in place with regard to attendees at weddings.

On the Delhi government’s decision to bring down the number of attendees at weddings to 50, the high court asked as to how the rule was being enforced and whether there were any protocols in place to implement it as a lot of weddings are held during this time of the year.

It also asked the Delhi government to ensure that there was a portal in place for payment of fines.

A bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad said that in the present day and time, “cash transactions need to be avoided” and there should be a provision for paying the fines electronically.

“Have you worked out a method for online payment or do people have to trod down to the nearest point to tender a fine in cash? In today’s day and time, handing over cash and transactions in cash are to be avoided and if that is how you are collecting fine — by expecting people to go to the closest point in these times — it would not be fair.

“If someone has violated, he or she should have the option to deposit it within a fixed time online. If you don’t have a portal, you should have created one for receiving online payment. Confirm from Delhi Police if they have such a system,” the bench said.

On utilisation of the “humongous amount of fines” collected, the court asked the Delhi government what it was doing with them.

“Are they just being collected and dumped or are they being pumped in the right direction? Are they being put to use for COVID facilities or things related to it or are they just swelling up in your coffers,” it asked and said it answers on this aspect from both the Delhi government and the police.

The court said if the Delhi government was running short of funds, as claimed by additional standing counsel Satyakam during the hearing, then the fines can be utilised for the same cause for which it has been collected.

“The idea is that it should remain in circulation for a good cause,” the bench said.

It termed as alarming that the number of deaths due to COVID-19 in the national capital crossed 2,000 in November.

On ensuring that the 50 attendees to weddings is ensured, the court asked the Delhi government what random checks or protocols it has in place to prevent violation of the cap.

“How do you know someone is violating? What is the random check you have in place? What is your protocol? Don’t forget this is a season when several marriages are being conducted or are in the pipeline. To ensure that the marriage venues do not turn into super spreaders, you need to have a protocol in place,” the bench said.

It said if there are no protocols in place and the Delhi government was going to put them in place only after the court’s intervention, then it needs to know why nothing was done till now.

With regard to Delhi government’s submission that it has increased RT/PCR test numbers to 40,000 per day, the bench remarked that it came after much pushing and prodding by the court and after loss of a lot of lives.

RT/PCR, or Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction, is a laboratory technique widely used in the diagnosis of genetic diseases and to measure gene expression in research.

The court was hearing a PIL by advocate Rakesh Malhotra seeking increase in the COVID-19 testing numbers in the national capital and getting speedy results.

On November?19, the bench had rapped the Delhi government over the surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the national capital, saying it was shaken out of slumber and turned turtle after some questions by the court on its preparedness to tackle the “deteriorating” situation this month.

Asking the Delhi government why it did not wake up when the COVID-19 numbers were spiralling, the court also said the rate at which the number of positive cases was rising it should have been alive to the fact that testing through Rapid Antigen (RAT) method was not serving the purpose and the answer lay in increasing the RT/PCR tests.

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