Delhi High Court on Wednesday expressed its concern on rising COVID-19 infection and the air pollution in the city and said that "it is a known fact that the COVID-19 virus can survive for a longer duration in pollution and thereby increase the severity of the disease".
A division bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad said that strict compliance and deterrent action is the need of the hour as Delhi has been reporting far more cases than states like Maharashtra and Kerala.
The court said that it is an "alarming situation" where all caution has been thrown to the winds during this festive season and the public is out in uncontrolled numbers, which itself would become a cause for further spread of the infection.
"On the one hand, citizens of Delhi have been struggling with the COVID-19 infection and on the other hand, the air pollution in the city is adding to their woes. It is a known fact that the COVID-19 virus can survive for a longer duration in pollution and thereby increase the severity of the disease," the court said.
"As a matter of fact, any of these large gatherings of the public in narrow and constricted streets and spaces would result in becoming super-spreaders of the infection."
The court said that it is one thing for the Delhi Government to state that till a vaccine is introduced to contain the infection, masks should be treated as a vaccine and another thing to demonstrate how it proposes to enforce such a statement.
"The situation has surpassed the stage of issuance of Advisories. Strict compliance and deterrent action is the need of the hour," the court said.
"If Delhi Government is serious about implementing its policy/strategy to contain the infection, then we would have thought that by now, there would have been some sanctions through appropriate legislation for enforcing the wearing of masks in public places."
During the hearing, the court slammed the Delhi government for relaxing the norms for public gathering and transport instead of tightening them when COVID-19 infections were scaling new heights.
The number of mounting cases does not support the submission of the Delhi Government that they are taking measures to control the situations, the bench noted.
The court directed the Delhi Government to file a Status Report setting out the steps taken by it in the past two weeks to control the COVID-19 infection and the manner in which it proposes to deal with the other issues flagged by this court.
The court listed the matter for further hearing on November 19.
The court remarked that the bench has thought the Delhi government would have taken immediate corrective steps and planned a strategy to contain the infections, but contrary to that, it has relaxed the norms.
"It has been noticed that the Delhi Government has to relax the norms of the movement by the public even in such a situation. It is apparent from the fact that as against capping of 100 people in ceremonies, the number of guests has been increased to 200. Similarly, as against permission to occupied alternate seats in public transports, Delhi Government has now permitted public transports to be fully occupied," the bench said.
The court also mentioned photos being shared on social media highlighting crowds in the streets of the national capital.
The bench said that during this festive season, the public is out in uncontrollable numbers which would have become a super spreader of infections.
Noting the claim of the Delhi government that the mask should be treated as a vaccine till there is some vaccine introduce to contain the infections, the court pointed out silence on introducing any legislation for enforcing of the compulsory wearing of masks in public places.
The bench asked what the concrete step has the Delhi government taken in light of the alarming COVID-19 infections including managing crowds and adequate arrangements for shifting infected people in care homes.
The court noted that petitioner Rakesh Malhotra has been infected with the virus and was present in the virtual court hearing. It observed that petitioner and advocate Malhotra has to struggle to get admission in nearby private hospitals and nursing homes.
Mr Malhotra, who has managed to get a nursing hospital due to his critical condition as he is on oxygen support, also shared his grievances with the court that he has failed to get admission to nearby hospitals.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Malhotra seeking directions to conduct large-scale rapid testing in the national capital for identifying the infected people.