CDFI accuses CM of ‘abusing’ Covid-19 to restrict gatherings

NEW DELHI, 9 Jan: The Chakma Development Foundation of India (CDFI) has sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention, accusing Chief Minister Pema Khandu of “abusing Covid-19 to restrict the right to peaceful assembly, especially of the Chakmas and Hajongs” by the Changlang district administration.

It said that the DC in an order on 7 January stated that “In view of surge in Covid-19 cases and emergent Omicron variant in neighbouring states, public gather/functions shall be restricted to 20 people following all Covid-appropriate behaviour.”

“The said order of the deputy commissioner of Changlang is arbitrary and absolute abuse of executive powers. It stands proven from the fact that all the schools and colleges which accommodate more than 20 students in one classroom remain open as the weekly markets in the district. Further, in the neighbouring state of Assam, where Omicron cases were reported, the SOP dated 7 January, 2022 states, ‘In closed venue, gathering is allowed up to 50 percent of seating capacity of hall, auditorium, etc, limited to a maximum of 200 persons’,” the foundation said.

In a press release, CDFI founder Suhas Chakma said that, “without issuing comprehensive SOP covering all aspects of Covid-19, the restriction only assembly of 20 persons proves that the deputy commissioner has issued the order to not address Covid-19 but the right to freedom of association and assembly in the district.”

He said that “the arbitrariness and absolute abuse of executive powers by deputy commissioner further stands proven from the fact that it imposes blanket ban on 20 persons even if a hall can accommodate 400 persons or an open field. The order is neither based on threat assessment based on Covid-19 cases in the district or state or any SOP issued by the state government of Arunachal Pradesh.”

The CDFI stated that, while adequate measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 must be taken, “the abuse of executive powers to violate the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India must not be permitted.”

It urged the prime minister to direct the Arunachal Pradesh government to instruct the Changlang DC to “withdraw his order of 7 January, revise the SOP on Covid-19 applicable to the entire state, including designating various zones, and ensure that

the officials, especially deputy commissioners, do not abuse their executive powers based on whims and fancies to violate the fundamental rights for reasons best known to them.”