Lessons from abroad

Published : May 18, 2020 07:00 IST

ON April 17, the High Court of Malawi suspended for seven days, pending judicial review, a 21-day lockdown planned by the government after the measure was challenged in the court ( S vs President of Malawi and Others; Ex Parte: Kathumba and Others ). On April 24, judge Kenyatta Nyirenda extended the lockdown suspension by another five days. The government had ordered a three-week national lockdown from April 19 to May 9 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the applicants before the High Court, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition, noted that it sought the injunction because the government had failed to put in place measures “to cushion the poor during lockdown”.

On April 28, the High Court extended indefinitely the order barring the government from imposing a lockdown. The court decided to refer the case to the constitutional court because the issues raised by the petitioners required the interpretation of the Constitution. Judge Nyirenda ruled that until the constitutional court decided on the matter there should be no lockdown. The court responded to the plea that imposing a lockdown without allowing social security interventions for marginalised groups was not permissible.

On March 24, the government of Nepal declared a lockdown, which was initially extended until April 27 and later up to May 7. On April 16, the Supreme Court of Nepal issued an interim order directing the government to take care of the health needs of Nepali migrant workers living abroad and seek the repatriation of vulnerable Nepali workers. A single bench of Justice Sapana Pradhan Malla issued the order in response to a writ petition filed by advocate Som Prasad Luitel and others against the office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and others seeking relief for Nepali workers stranded in foreign countries.

The court asked the government to acquire through the Nepali embassies details of Nepali migrants suffering from COVID-19 in the respective countries and ensure that they got treatment as per World Health Organisation rules without any discrimination. The court ordered the government to bring back vulnerable Nepal migrants while ensuring that the larger population was not at risk of infection following the reckless return of migrants. The Supreme Court pointed out that the government could not ignore the plight of Nepali migrants whose contribution to the nation’s economy was significant.

Critics of the lockdown measures opine that the Malawi and Nepali courts’ orders put the Supreme Court of India to shame.

V. Venkatesan

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