Covid curbs affecting people, Bakrid relaxation to help traders: Kerala to Supreme Court

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Hours after the Supreme Court gave Kerala a day’s time to reply to a plea challenging the state government’s decision to relax lockdown for three days, beginning Sunday, in view of the Bakrid festival, the state on Monday told the court that curbs put in place to deal with Covid-19 have put people in a lot of misery and traders who had stocked up goods were expecting Bakrid sales to alleviate their misery to a certain extent.

The organisation of traders has also “started to agitate against the stringent curbs” and announced that they will open shops diluting regulations, the state said in an affidavit filed in the top court while explaining its decision to provide lockdown relaxation for three days.

It stated that the Opposition in the state has also raised the traders’ demand and sought more relaxations.

Earlier, during Monday’s hearing, the bench of Justices R F Nariman and B R Gavai took on record Uttar Pradesh government’s submission that various kanwar sanghs associated with the conduct of the annual Kanwar Yatra have “voluntarily” agreed to postpone this year’s ritual in view of the Covid-19 situation and reminded authorities to “ensure that untoward incidents which directly affect the lives of the public will be looked upon sternly and prompt action taken immediately”.

It, however, did not grant any immediate stay on the Kerala government’s decision to relax lockdown for three days.

The court fixed it for hearing on Tuesday, even as the applicant urged the bench to pass “immediate orders”, as Tuesday is the last day of the relaxations allowed and no purpose would be served if action is deferred.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for applicant P K D Nambiar, a Delhi-based political analyst and marketing strategist who filed an impleadment application in the Kanwar Yatra matter, pointed out that the relaxation was allowed for three days — July 18, 19 and 20. He prayed that “some relief should be granted immediately, or it will be of no use. If time is given to the state, 3-day time will be over. Pass immediate orders today itself”.

Singh said that “ultimately the fight will be a lost one to a relaxation of this kind”, and that “there can’t be anything populist today” amidst the pandemic.

The bench acceded to Kerala government counsel G Prakash’s request for time to file a reply. It asked the state to submit its response on Monday itself and said it will take up the matter as the first item on Tuesday morning.

Taking suo motu cognisance of The Indian Express report that UP “has started preparing” for the annual Kanwar Yatra — “with restrictions” — the Supreme Court had on July 14 sought response from UP and Uttarakhand governments as well as the Centre on this.

UP then sought the court’s permission for holding a symbolic Yatra but SC did not agree and said people’s health and right to life are above even religious sentiments.

Kerala announced easing of lockdown curbs for Bakrid the same day as the SC’s order on July 16.

The state government’s affidavit mentioned that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan held discussions on July 16 with traders’ representatives, who assured that all Covid protocols will be followed. “Their demand was put forth before the Crisis Management Group meeting, and with the concurrence of the chairman of the Expert Group, it was decided to give relaxations for opening shops foe three days prior to Bakrid…”, it stated.

The state said that since lockdown cannot be extended indefinitely considering repercussions on the livelihoods of people, the government “is working in a containment strategy that focuses specifically on areas with high spread of Covid-19 allowing economic activity to the extent possible”.

Nambiar’s intervention application said that despite the court’s discontent over the yatra, Kerala government is “acting in casual manner by relaxing the Covid norms”.

Vikas Singh told the bench that Kerala’s test positivity rate (TPR) is 10.96 and that anything above 5 is alarming. The court, he submitted, had said that the Kanwar Yatra should not take place, although the TPR of UP was only 0.02, and that of Delhi 0.07. “This is not a number every state is providing from outside. Every state has its own data… Kerala has about 30,000 positive cases, while UP has only 59 cases,” he said.

Advocate Prakash said Kerala is scrupulously following all directions of the Centre and that the state had only opened some shops.

Taking note of the UP affidavit, the court also decided to close the Kanwar Yatra matter.