Coronavirus scare: SC suspends guided tours for public, closes museum
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Sunday decided to suspended the largely popular guided tours of the apex court complex and closed its museum for visitors till further orders in view of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In a fresh circular, the top court issued several precautionary measures based on the Centre's advisory cautioning against mass gatherings to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
The apex court said non-essential visits to the Supreme Court premises are discouraged and entry of casual visitors shall remain restricted until further orders.
The circular directed all stakeholders including lawyers, court staff and vendors to vacate the apex court premises preferably by 5.30 PM every day to facilitate sanitisation of rest rooms, corridors, staircases and other areas by 6 PM.
It advised all entrants to the apex court premises including lawyers, litigants and clerks to not crowd at any spot and to exit the premises as soon as their official business gets over.
The circular said lawyers and litigants from across the country who would like to avoid travel or visits to the Supreme Court may email the Registry apprising them of such information and details of their case(s) with the request that their matter(s) may not be listed until the aforesaid restrictions remain in force.
The guided tours of the top court are held every Saturday, except on declared holidays, in two groups of 40 people each, allowing visitors to view the grand interiors of the Supreme Court building, judges' library and court rooms.
The guided tours are popular among the common people who during normal court hours do not get to see the court rooms and other parts of the apex court due to restricted entry. These tours are booked for free well in advance through online bookings.
The apex court had on Saturday said only six benches will on March 16 take up 12 urgent matters each to avoid overcrowding of court rooms following the decision to restrict the apex court functioning in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Among the important matters which have been listed for hearing on Monday are the anticipatory bail pleas of civil rights activists Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde, accused in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case, and a petition by a Nirbhaya case convict.
The apex court, which had on March 13 announced that only six of the 15 benches will hold court to hear only urgent matters, issued instructions for the staff, including thermal screening of all employees and closure of cafeterias, as part of precautionary measures.
On March 6, the top court had extended till March 16 the protection from arrest granted to civil rights activists Navlakha and Teltumbde, while hearing the appeal against last month's order of the Bombay High Court rejecting their anticipatory bail pleas. The matter will be taken up on Monday.
The top court will also hear the plea of Mukesh Singh, one of the four death row convicts in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case who has sought restoration of all his legal remedies, alleging that his lawyers had misled him.
The plea, filed through advocate ML Sharma, has sought a CBI probe into alleged "criminal conspiracy" and "fraud" by the Centre, Delhi government and advocate Vrinda Grover, who is the amicus curiae in the case.
The top court cause list for March 16 said the six benches will first take up hearings in only six matters and then judges will take a break for half an hour and then resume hearing for the other six matters.
In a circular issued on March 13, the apex court had said no persons except lawyers concerned will be allowed inside its courtrooms.
It said the six benches will comprise of Justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah, Justices U U Lalit and Vineet Saran, Justices A M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari, Justices D Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta, Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhatt, and Justices S K Kaul and Sanjiv Khanna.
The judges will be sitting in court numbers 2, 3, 6, 8, 11 and 14 to avoid overcrowding of court corridors. On Monday and Friday of every week, the apex court usually functions with 15 benches and takes up mostly miscellaneous matters.
A circular issued by the apex court on Saturday said all the cafeterias, including the departmental canteen of the apex court, are being advised to remain closed until further orders and all the staff members shall make their own arrangements in this regard.
It pointed out that all staff members may be required to subject themselves to thermal screening and persons detected with high body temperature would be denied entry and further, they may be subject to the SOP prescribed by the Government of India, Ministry of Health from time to time.
The apex court has been mulling over the issue in its meetings held at the residence of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde on March 12 and 13, as it took note of the Centre's March 5 advisory cautioning against mass gatherings and the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a 'pandemic'.
Several states across India went into battle mode to contain the spread of COVID-19, shutting down schools, theatres and colleges, and many public events, including the IPL, were postponed.