THE Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice to the Central Government in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL). The petition seeks directions to prepare, notify and implement a National Plan to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic under Section 11 read with Section 10 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (Act 2005).
The plea filed through Advocate-on-Record (AoR) Prashant Bhushan also sought that all funds collected under PM CARES Fund should be credited to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) as the statutory fund under Section 46(1Xb) of the Act.
Fresh National Plan for COVID
The plea also sought to lay down minimum standards of relief, for persons affected by COVID-19 and by the resultant national lockdown under Section 12 of the Act, 2005. The National Plan should outline inter alia a detailed coordination mechanism between Centre and states. It argued for issuance of ad hoc and emergent orders are understandable owing to the unpredictability of crisis. However now, after passing of more than two months, a broad and well-thought plan needs to be in place.
The plea highlights that the website carries National Plan of 2019 which does not comprehensively deal with present-day situations, arising out of the current pandemic and has no mention of measures like lockdown, containment zones, social distancing etc in it. National Plan of 2019’s part on ‘Biological and Public Health Emergencies’ does not mention any of the measures that are being taken today. Therefore, unduly harsh disruptions are being caused in enforcing the same.
Utilization of NDRF vis a vis PM CARES
Under Section 46 of the Act, 2005, all grants for purposes of disaster management should mandatorily be credited into the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF). However, NDRF is not being utilized in fighting the ongoing COVID-19 disaster. Instead, PM-CARES Fund has been constituted which is outside the purview and ambit of the Act, 2005. The latter is a public charitable trust and donations made to the said fund are in violation of statutory provisions. It is pertinent to mention herein that Section 72 of the DM Act provides that the provisions of Act, 2005 shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith.
“There cannot be continuous arbitrariness in the decision making process in dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic and resultantly putting a disproportionate burden on the poor and other marginal sections of the society as the same is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of lndia. Thus, a National plan is required to be prepared, notified and implemented under Section 11 read with Section ’10 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 with due consultation with the State Governments and experts”, the plea said.
Plea asserted that the Right to Health is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of lndia. While the acute and unforeseen challenges in face of current COVID-19 pandemic are understandable, the statutory provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 are required to be followed both in letter and spirit.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave appeared for the petitioner. The matter will now be heard after four weeks.