Bench takes serious exception to govt. appointing inquiry commission into the death of COVID-19 patients without its prior approval when the matter was sub judice.
In a major setback to the Karnataka government, the High Court on Wednesday directed the Chief Secretary to seize all the records in the offices of the Deputy Commissioners of Chamarajanagar and Mysore districts, and Chamarajanagar district hospital on oxygen supply and relevant correspondences among the authorities in the two districts.
The court also took serious exception to the decision of the State government to set up a commission of inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952 and appointing a retired judge to probe the deaths of 24 COVID-19 patients in Chamarajanagar without taking its prior approval.
The court on Tuesday had indicated to the State Advocate-General that it was in favour of ordering a judicial probe by appointing a retired judge considering the seriousness of the issues related to death of COVID-19 patients in Chamarajanagar, Kalaburagi and other places.
The A-G, after taking instructions from the government, had told the court that the government per se had no objection to a judicial probe.
However, the government, in the Cabinet meeting convened on Tuesday evening, decided to set up a Commission of Inquiry and appointed B.A. Patil, a retired judge of the High Court, as a one-man commission to conduct inquiry.
“Intention of the government is very clear from the manner in which the whole thing is being done… It is a peremptory order…we are not against your appointing a particular judge, but you should have left it to the court…In all fairness you should have left it to the court to appoint a retired judge to conduct inquiry…,” observed a Special Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Aravind Kumar.
The Bench said that the Chief Secretary should immediately seize all the documents, keep them in his safe custody till further orders of the court. The Chief Secretary can give access to the documents to the IAS officer appointed to conduct a preliminary inquiry, the court said while indicating it may also order allowing access to the documents to a committee, headed by a retired judge of the High Court of the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority, which is monitoring the COVID-19 situation analysing State’s actions and responses.