The Delhi High Court today 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 for random checking in place to implement it as a lot of weddings are held during this time of the year.
“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 and directed the Delhi government to indicate in its next status report, the number of inspections carried out and the violation of the 50 attendee cap that they revealed and action taken in each case.
It asked the Delhi government to ensure 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 while posting the next hearing on December 3.
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 need 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 and directed the Delhi government to indicate in its next status report the amount of fine collected by it and police under the various heads and the steps taken to utilise it for fighting the COVID-19 infection.
If no steps have been taken for utilising the fine amounts, then the reasons for the same be indicated in the next report, it said.
After perusing the latest status report, the court noted that a house to house survey was carried out in the national capital by the Delhi government in collaboration with National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and over 57 lakh households were surveyed which indicated that highest number of asymptomatic persons were found in south west, east, north west and west districts of the city.
It asked the Delhi government what was it doing pursuant to the survey results.
Senior advocate Sandeep Sethi and advocate Satyakam, appearing for the AAP government, said testing through RT/PCR has been ramped up to 40,000 tests per day and they intend to augment it further.
On this the bench said that an increase in RT/PCR tests 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
On use of the new gold standard test FELUDA, developed and launched by Tata Sons, the Delhi government said it was examining whether to use it as part of its testing strategy.
Another issue which was under “active consideration” was whether to impose night curfews, as done by some other states, it said and added that for imposing lockdown outside containment zones it needs approval of the central government.
“Actively considering? As active as COVID-19 cases? How long will it take,” the court asked and the Delhi government counsel said,”three-four days”.
On the issue of the number of people succumbing to COVID-19 in the city and the arrangements in place for cremation or burial, the Delhi government said adequate facilities were in place.
The court said that till November the average of persons succumbing to COVID-19 was around 800 per month, but in November the figures have risen beyond 2,000 “which in itself is alarming” and asked the Delhi government to indicate, in its next report, the data of district wise capacity for cremation or burials.
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