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Landmark Delhi High Court rulings during the pandemic

An uncommon order by Justice Prathiba M. Singh kick-started the year. In January, she directed the Health Ministry to explore “crowdfunding”. It was to help two children — suffering from the rare Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy — procure exorbitantly priced medicines.
Justice Singh noted that the high cost of medicines should not be a reason to deny treatment to patients, especially children.
Even though the doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) felt the children were unlikely to show improvement after treatment, Justice Singh said it was incumbent on society and authorities to ensure that the life of children is not compromised, even if improving their chances of survival or providing a better quality of life is slim.
‘Right to Health and Healthcare’ is a fundamental right recognised by the Supreme Court as part of the ‘Right to life’ under Article 21 of the Constitution, Justice Singh remarked. She also directed the Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to have a timeline for finalising and notifying the Draft Health Policy for Rare Diseases, 2020.
A section in the draft policy stated that in cases where the government cannot fully finance the treatment, donations can be sought for meeting the high expenses of treating rare diseases. On March 30 this year, the ‘National Policy for Rare Diseases, 2021’ was approved by the Centre.
In the same month, a two-judge Bench upheld a controversial provision in the Central Goods and Services Tax (CGST) Act that gives power to the authorities to arrest any person if there is a “reason to believe” that he has committed tax evasion.
However, Justice Manmohan and Justice Sanjeev Narula underlined that any person arrested under the CGST Act will have to be apprised of the grounds for arrest and be produced before a Magistrate within 24 hours.
The Centre had pointed out that several bogus firms had fraudulently availed of IGST refunds and ITC credits that had caused substantial loss to the exchequer.
Justice C. Hari Shankar restrained a foreign court from pursuing its cause before the Indian judiciary. In a strongly worded judgment passed in May, he halted the enforcement of an order passed by the Wuhan Intermediate People’s Court in September 2020, disallowing U.S. firm InterDigital Technology Corporation, from pursuing a patent infringement case against Chinese tech giant Xiaomi Corporation.
On the case filed here, Justice Shankar said, “The right of a citizen for legal redressal and to ventilate his legitimate rights, is hallowed, sacred, and fundamental in this country.”
In one of his last judgments before retirement in June, Justice J.R. Midha ruled that any private person can arrest a ‘proclaimed offender’ and hand him over to the police without unnecessary delay.
He laid down guidelines to be followed by the courts before declaring a person a ‘proclaimed offender’ and the follow-up action needed to be taken by the law enforcement agencies. He directed the Delhi Police and the Central Bureau of Investigation to create a special cell for tracking down ‘proclaimed offenders’ and attaching their movable or immovable properties for prosecution.
According to Delhi Police records, there are 26,532 ‘proclaimed offenders’ as on September 31, 2019.
Justice Midha said names, addresses and pictures of ‘proclaimed offenders’ be made public on different government websites (such as Delhi Police, National Crime Records Bureau, CBI ) and help be sought to trace them.
In an unprecedented judgment, Justice Prathiba M. Singh directed Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to keep his promise, made in a press conference, that his government would pay the rent for those who are unable to pay it due to poverty in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
“The promise/assurance/representation given by the CM clearly amounts to an enforceable promise, the implementation of which ought to be considered by the government,” Justice Singh ruled in July. He remarked that the Chief Minister cannot first make a “clear and unequivocal oral assurance” and then fall silent when it comes to implementation.
During the mass exodus of migrant workers from the city following the nationwide lockdown in March 2020, Mr. Kejriwal had announced that if any tenant is unable to pay rent due to job loss, his government would pay the rent on their behalf. The Chief Minister had also assured the landlords that his government would reimburse them if the tenants failed to pay the rent.
Another Bench of the High Court has stayed Justice Singh’s judgment following the Delhi government’s appeal against the order, claiming no indiscriminate and unconditional assurance for payment of rent was made by Mr. Kejriwal.
A slew of directions on the contentious issue of feeding stray dogs came in July from Justice Midha. He remarked that every stray or street dog had the right to food and citizens have the right to feed them. But in exercising this right, care and caution should be taken to ensure that it does not impinge upon the rights of others, he said.
“Every dog is a territorial being, and therefore, have to be fed and tended to at places within their territory which are not frequented, or less frequented, and sparingly used by the general public,” Justice Midha added and directed Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) to form ‘Guard and Dog partnerships’ in consultation with the Delhi Police Dog Squad, so that the dogs could be trained to be guard dogs.
The High Court also ruled that it should be “the duty and obligation of every RWA or municipal corporation to ensure that community dogs in all areas have access to food and water in the absence of their caregivers”.
He also made it mandatory to feed the dogs only at areas designated by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) in consultation with the RWAs or municipal corporation.
In another landmark decision in September, Justice Rekha Palli ruled that marriages could be registered in the virtual presence of parties.
“In a little over half a decade, since the Registration Order was notified, the universe has undergone a sea change but the Registering Authority, while exercising its power and jurisdiction under the Registration Order, is refusing to recognise the reality that with the technology is available today, web portals and videoconferencing have become the norm,” Justice Palli said.
She said if videoconferencing was not accepted as the norm, then courts in the country would have come to a grinding halt and not been able to function when the citizens of the country needed access to justice.