Rashid Paul

Have no competence to impose restrictions in places of worship: J&K High Court

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DG Prisons asked to file report about steps taken in prisons to deal with coronavirus threat

Srinagar, Mar 17: Observing that the court does not have competence to impose restrictions in places of worship amid the coronoavirus pandemic, the J&K High Court Tuesday directed the authorities to consider appropriate measures on the issue.

The observation and direction followed a suggestion by Monica Kohli, amicus curie in a public interest litigation seeking measures to prevent the spread of the deadly viral disease in the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

“This court would not have the competence either to evaluate the steps which are necessary or the expertise to impose appropriate restrictions,” observed the bench comprising Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal.

“The administration, public health authorities and the security agencies would be required to work together to suggest the appropriate measures,” it added.

However, keeping in view the urgency of the matter, the bench directed the administrators of the union territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh “to immediately consider such appropriate measures as are essential with regard to places of religious importance, tourist popularity, keeping in view the public health emergency arising out of the risk of spread of COVID-19 in the union territories.”

The measures should be notified and implemented at the earliest, it directed further.

The Commissioner/Secretary, Department of Health and Medical Education has been asked to place before the court within two days the copy of the compliance report.

Advocate Monika told the court that J&K and Ladakh have several places of religious importance and popular tourist destinations including temples, gumpas and mosques.

“There is not only heavy footfall of pilgrims but huge crowds during congregations. The pilgrims to these shrines are coming not only from various places in India but from all over the world,” she said, adding that restrictions have been placed on such public places outside J&K.

The court meanwhile directed the Deputy Commissioners in all the districts of the region to “examine the provisions of the National Disaster Management Act, 2005 and all other laws, and if deemed appropriate, take appropriate steps as may be advised.”

It also directed the Director General (Prisons) to “file a report with regard to steps taken in the prisons in Jammu and Kashmir especially with regard to creation of isolation wards and treatment facilities in case prisoners are suspected to be or get infected.”

The court taking cognizance of the fact that many people are living in orphanages and old-age homes in J&K, asked the concerned officers to ensure awareness amongst inmates and take measures for their protection.

“The respondents shall inform this court about the status of the students from the union territories who had to be evacuated from Iran,” it directed.

The court also expressed its angst that the two Observation Homes at Harwan Srinagar and R S Pura do not have the facility of video-conferencing available with them.

It was also informed that none of the Juvenile Justice Boards in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have such facility.

This is a matter which needs to be addressed on priority, said the court and directed the Commissioner Secretaries of the concerned departments to take immediate steps for enabling video-conferencing facility in the Observations Homes as well as in all the Juvenile Justice Boards to ensure video connectivity forthwith.

The report in this regard has to be submitted by the departmental secretaries before the next date of hearing.

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