In recognition of the magnitude of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, the Punjab and Haryana High Court took a significant step on Friday by putting a halt to further legal proceedings in cases related to the violation of pandemic protocols across Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh.
The court’s decision, applicable to cases registered under the Epidemic Diseases Act, the Disaster Management Act, and Section 188, along with two other provisions of the IPC, comes as a result of the Bench considering the potential use of its authority under Article 226 of the Constitution to quash these proceedings. This directive will remain in effect until at least March 14, the next scheduled hearing.
During the hearing of the suo motu case, the Bench, consisting of Justice Anupinder Singh Grewal and Justice Kirti Singh, underscored the unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The nationwide lockdown, implemented to curb the virus’s spread, led to orders issued under Section 188 of the IPC, Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, and Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act.
Acknowledging the overall compliance of the public with these orders, the Bench recognized that emergent situations might have compelled individuals to violate them, such as the essential need for food and medicine. In light of this, the Bench stated, “While considering the issue of invoking our power under Article 226 of the Constitution to quash these proceedings, we deem it appropriate as an interim measure to direct that the further proceedings in the cases registered under Sections 188, 269, 270 of the IPC, read with Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act and Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act, without invoking other provisions of the IPC or other penal enactments would remain stayed till the next date of hearing.”
Before concluding the session, the Bench highlighted its previous concern about the potential overload on the judicial system due to a large number of such cases. It emphasized the need to take comprehensive action “across the board” to benefit even those accused whose cases were not actively monitored by the Court in the writ petition. Referring to the status reports, the Bench noted that in Punjab, 5,792 cases are currently pending trial or under investigation, while around 12,000 cases of a similar nature had already been concluded. In Haryana, 4,494 cases were pending, with a significant number already disposed of. Currently, 114 cases were awaiting trial or investigation, while 974 cases of a similar nature had been resolved.