With due respect

Allahabad HC's anguish is understandable. But deciding on a UP lockdown is the government's job, not for the bench to order

The Supreme Court has rightly stayed the Allahabad High Court directive to impose a week-long lockdown in five districts in UP following what it deemed a failure of the system to deal with the spike in COVID-19 cases. A two-judge bench of the Allahabad HC Monday had held that the medical infrastructure in these districts was “virtually incapacitated” and called the measures undertaken by the government as an eyewash. The pandemic situation in UP, no doubt, is grave and all systems have been strained. But a lockdown is a call best left to the political executive since its economic and social implications are far-reaching. Moreover, managing a lockdown is based on inputs from the district level on the spread of the infection, the health infrastructure available and the demographic profile of those hit the hardest. The High Court’s anguish is understandable but a fiat from the bench is hardly the best way to go about tackling a pandemic.

The Allahabad HC has been watching closely the actions of UP administration and has been periodically hauling up the government for its omissions and commissions. For instance, the HC has repeatedly read the rulebook back to the administration in cases where the due process was subverted or justice denied. The court’s unbending commitment to fairness and the rule of law has been exceptional, especially since other institutions seem to have buckled under pressure but its directive on lockdown borders on overreach. A week ago, the HC had asked the government if a lockdown was necessary to contain the spread of the pandemic. Its concern was fuelled by reports of rising cases and deaths and the failure of the system to cope with it — the court was hearing a PIL on the “inhuman” condition in the quarantine centre and the state of COVID treatment. The government held that a lockdown could cause destruction of livelihoods and accentuate economic distress and claimed that it had taken a series of measures, including declaring the worst affected areas as containment zones. The measures may not have yielded the expected results and it triggered an angry response from the HC.

There are glaring gaps in the state’s health infrastructure. Fixing that is a long haul and will require sustained investment and political focus on public health. That’s why the state government may have got relief from the apex court but it will do well to listen carefully to the Allahabad HC’s censure. More so, in a year leading to Assembly elections when it’s a challenge for any government to blend both governance and politics.

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