An affidavit filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claiming that it has not conducted any public rally or gathering in the State during the COVID-19 pandemic drew the ire of the Karnataka High Court which said that it amounted to perjury since Bench had photographs which contradicted the ruling party’s version.
After taking note of the submission made on affidavit, a Bench headed by Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka responded that it was a false statement.
“A very bold statement to make that this party has not conducted any roadshows or gatherings. This is false. You better correct yourself. We have photographs showing otherwise,” said Justice Oka.
The Court went on to warn the counsel appearing for BJP that there would be action for perjury as it was making a false statement on affidavit.
“You (Counsel for BJP) better take instruction or else this will be a false statement on oath. Not a single roadshow or gathering or public rally was held by you? Are you very serious about this statement,” asked, a bewildered CJ Oka.
The counsel for BJP then expressed that he would like to withdraw the affidavit and file a fresh one. While granting permission to file a fresh affidavit, the Court said that the present affidavit would be on record.
The Bench was hearing a petition filed by an NGO ‘LetzKits Foundation’, seeking the proper enforcement of COVID-19 protocol guidelines in the State.
Earlier, in November 2020, the Court had issued notice to BJP, CPI, JD(S), CPI(M), Indian National Congress and Kannada Chaluvali Vatal Paksha after it noted that multiple political rallies were held by political parties flouting social distancing norms.
During the hearing on Monday said that BJP has not complied with the Court’s order to all political parties to lay down norms to be followed by party workers when rallies or functions are held.
“We expected you to take the lead and whenever you hold some function or rallies you lay down some norms for your party workers. That is not done by you,” the Court remarked.
As the matter progressed, the State submitted a copy of the Karnataka Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020, which provides for punishment of fine instead of imprisonment for violation of COVID-19 norms.
Before the amendment, as per Section 5 of the Act, anyone who contravenes the regulations/orders and directions issued could be imprisoned for a minimum of three months which can be extended up to five years. A fine of not less than Rs 50,000 and up to Rs 2 lakh could also be levied.
By way of amendment to Section 5, after sub-section (3), the following was inserted:
“(3A) whoever contravenes the provisions of sub-section (1) shall be punished with such fine as may be prescribed in rules or in regulations, which may extend to fifty thousand rupees or with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to three months or with both.”
(ii) in sub-section (4), the figure and brackets “(1)” shall be omitted.
Secondly, it has brought in substitution to section 10 of the Principal Act. The amended section shall now read as “10. Composition of certain offences. – (1) Any offence punishable under the provisions of sub-section (3A) of section 5 committed before or after commencement of the Karnataka Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020 may either before or after institution of prosecution be compounded by such officer authorised by the Government, on payment of such amount as may be notified by the Government. On such compounding, an offender, if in custody, shall be discharged and no further proceedings shall be taken against him in respect of such offence.
(2) Any offence punishable under sub-section (4) of section 5, committed before or after the commencement of the Karnataka Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020 may be compounded with permission of the court, by a person against whom such act of violence is committed.”
The Court, therefore, directed the State government to respond on whether it has framed any Rules or Regulations prescribing fine as provided under sub-section (3A) added to Section 5 of the Karnataka Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020.
The High Court also directed the State government and the city police to submit a report on the action taken over the violation of COVID-19 norms during a rally organised on February 21 seeking greater reservation for the Panchamasali Lingayat community under the Other Backward Classes category.
The Additional Government Advocate will also take instructions whether a notification has been issued by the State Government in terms of substituted Section 10 notifying the amounts which are required to be paid for compounding of the offences punishable under sub- section (3A) of Section 5 of the Principal Act, the Court added.
The matter will be heard next on March 12.