The Gujarat High Court in its order on the suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) over the Covid-19 surge in Gujarat, which was made public Wednesday, called upon the state government and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) to explain themselves on how a different admission policy to hospitals was being followed despite ‘108’ ambulance being a “scheme of the state government and not of the corporation.”
The court also suggested the state should “give a serious thought to the suggestions” of lockdown, either area-specific or a blanket lockdown, from senior counsels Percy Kavina and Shalin Mehta.
Chastising the state for its opacity around data of bed availability, the HC bench, in the order, said at a time when the government should be easing the misery of the public, it is only adding on to their struggle.
“In the previous orders, we had pointed out that data of availability of beds should be displayed on real-time basis so that there is no harassment to the patients from running from one hospital to another. We do not find any such response from the state in the present affidavit regarding the same, and as such, the harassment to the patients and attendants still continue… When the patients and the attendants are already in a state of crisis, struggling for survival, the government and the (Ahmedabad Municipal) Corporation instead of helping them, create further complications by not giving accurate data, then nothing can be worse,” the order noted.
The court said on the next hearing, scheduled for May 5, for which the state has to file an affidavit by May 3, the bench wants “the details of the entire state of Gujarat and the status of every district rather than focusing only on Ahmedabad. This was clarified in the earlier orders also. However, we reiterate the same here.”
On Tuesday, the division bench had pulled up the state government during the course of hearing for permitting AMC to follow a different patient admission policy under which only patients reaching by ‘108’ emergency ambulance services were given admission to AMC hospitals or beds requisition by the civic body in private hospitals. Advocate Amit Panchal had highlighted the issue and sought that it should be done away with.
On Wednesday, the AMC withdrew the order and announced that patients can arrive by any mode of transportation for admission at these Covid-19 facilities.
The bench also called on “both (AMC and the state government) to answer the above state of affairs. State, on the one hand, not exercising its powers and the corporation, on the other hand, continuing with its own policy contrary to that of the state.”
Noting that the ‘108’ ambulances being partially run by the state in partnership with a private company, the court said: “Whatever guidelines or policy of use of 108 ambulances is to be formulated by the state, the corporation would be bound to follow it.”
The court also sought an explanation from the state and the corporation on why such a policy was put in place when it was evident there was a shortage of ambulances.
“…It has been stated that the state has ordered addition of 150 ambulances to the existing fleet of 108 ambulances…This clearly means that the state or the corporation were aware that there is shortage of 108 ambulances, and if that was so, then what justification can be there if the patients reach the hospital in their privately arranged vehicles… We accordingly direct that all the government, corporation, designated and private hospitals to attend all patients reaching them. Patients cannot be left unattended. However, admission of hospital would of course be subject to availability of beds, but then a preliminary needed treatment should be given and, thereafter, the parties may be advised further course of action,” the order noted.
The HC in its order remarked that the affidavit filed by the state Health department Principal Secretary Jayanti Ravi “lacked information” on what was the state-wide policy of distribution of the centre-allocated Remdesivir injections and if transparency in the distribution procedure is being followed so as to serve the most critical and needy patients first.
While the court abstained from commenting on allocation of oxygen to Gujarat (since the central government has taken over it), it observed, “The state must speed up and find out other alternatives for manufacture of oxygen for medical use. The PSA plants which are not functional to be made functional at the earliest.”
The court also sought that the state place on record in its next affidavit on how the state government was distributing the allocated oxygen within the state, among the several districts and hospitals.
Meanwhile the court directed the state to “ensure that the corporation (AMC) forthwith withdraws” a press note wherein it had exempted Covid-19 testing of residents returning to Ahmedabad.