The Supreme Court of India on Tuesday said that COVID-19 patients are treated as “untouchables”, reflecting a different “ground reality" in the country once warning posters are put up outside their homes.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and M.R. Shah raised concerns despite the central government assuaging the court that there is no compulsion for state authorities to affix such posters.
The central government informed the top court that although it has not prescribed this rule, the practice has nothing to do with “stigmatising” COVID-19 patients as it is aimed at protecting other people.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the central government, said that some states on their own are pursuing this practice to prevent the spread of the virus.
"[The Centre] has filed its reply to the plea in pursuance of the Supreme Court’s direction asking it to consider issuing nationwide guidelines", Mehta said.
The bench said that “Let the counter filed by Union come on record we will take it up on Thursday”, the bench said. The court asked the government consider issuing guidelines on Kush Kalra’s plea.
The three-member bench observed that the Delhi government has agreed in the High Court not to paste posters, and the central government should come up with guidelines on the matter for the entire country.
Delhi's Arvind Kejriwal-led government told the High Court that it has instructed all its officials not to put up posters outside the homes of COVID-19-positive persons and those already pasted have been ordered to be removed.
The government told the High Court that its officials have also not been allowed to share details of COVID-19-positive persons with their neighbours, resident welfare associations, or WhatsApp groups.
In his plea before the High Court, Kalra contended that freely circulating to resident welfare associations (RWAs) and WhatsApp groups the names of persons who have tested positive for COVID-19 was “leading to stigmatisation and drawing of unnecessary attention“.
The petition stated that COVID-19-positive persons “ought to be given privacy to cope with and recover from the illness in peace and away from prying eyes". “Rather, they are being made the centre of public attention...” it said.
It also claimed that this has resulted in persons “shying away and deliberately choosing not to test themselves” to shield themselves from the “public embarrassment and stigmatisation” that is also caused by posters outside the homes of COVID-19-positive patients.