Among other directives, the Gujarat High Court has asked the state government to regulate ambulance charges and ensure that private hospitals display the government-fixed charges at the reception. The directions were part of the HC order on a bunch of petitions pertaining to Covid-19 related issues, which was made public on Friday. The court also directed the state government to continue helping stranded migrants reach their home states. The division bench clarified that if any group of migrant labourers would like to go back to their respective native state, then “it shall be open for them to approach the collector of the district… We expect the state to render necessary help in this regard… The Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation is directed to ply its buses for transport of such migrants even outside Gujarat if required.”
Following the state government’s submission that at present nearly 500 beds are vacant at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, amicus curiae advocate Brijesh Trivedi informed the division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J B Pardiwala, who are hearing the suo motu public interest litigation pertaining to Covid-19 related issues, that “the beds are deliberately kept vacant in the Civil Hospital so as to ease the pressure and burden… this should not happen.”
The court stressed upon the observation it had made at an earlier order of May 29, where the bench had noted, “We want the Civil Hospital to function at its full strength. Not a single bed should be kept vacant. If the health department is not able to withstand the pressure, then it should immediately make necessary arrangements… We sound a note of caution in this regard, more particularly, to the Principal Secretary of the Health Department that in future, if we come to know that deliberately the admission in the Civil Hospital is restricted… then we may have to take appropriate action in this regard.”
The HC also asked the state to ensure that adequate number of ambulances and hearse are available and appropriate facilities be made for cremation and burial so that there is no waiting for the authorities as well as for the bereaved families.
Besides, it asked the state to explore the possibility of utilising V S Hospital even though the state had shown reluctance for the same. “We made such request keeping in mind that God forbid if the situation in future gets worse, then the V S Hospital can provide almost 500 to 700 beds,” the order of June 19 noted.
The testing policy and the state’s view of it as a fundamental right but subject to reasonable restrictions came under scrutiny from several quarters. The court subsequently ensured some preliminary directions that may lead to an increased testing capacity in the state.
In another petition that had also raised similar issues of restricted testing, senior counsel Percy Kavina too had submitted that “the stance of the state government is quite contrary to the settled position of law,” while arguing that there should not be any restriction on testing.
To push for increased testing, senior counsel Anshin Desai submitted that there are only 19 laboratories in Gujarat for Covid-19 RTPCR testing which have the recognition from the ICMR and approval from the state government. To further increase the testing capacity, Desai had submitted on June 19 that “there is no good reason why the other laboratories fulfilling the eligibility criteria prescribed by ICMR should not be permitted to conduct the tests.” He sought that all private labs fulfilling the eligibility criteria should be granted approval by the ICMR within a period of seven days from the date of applying for the same, including the grant of NABL accreditation for an eligible private laboratory.
To this effect, the court issued the above two directions, observing that it deserves to be issued “at the earliest in the larger public interest.”
The Gujarat HC also sought a response from the state government on other prayers sought by Desai, including real-time detailed data maintenance by AMC, of the vacant beds, occupied beds, ventilators available across the 59 private hospitals and all the government hospitals, for each category of beds and with a bifurcation of beds reserved for the AMC and the beds reserved for the private patients.
The HC also sought a response from the state government on the prevailing Covid-19 patient discharge policy.
Another petition that was moved by the Gujarat chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) seeking testing of all frontline healthcare workers, sought review and revision of the state’s policy of mandatory prescription by MD specialist prior to testing, especially for these frontline health workers. The court also sought the state’s response in this regard.
Amreli road blockades
A petition was moved before the court seeking quashing of an order of April 18 by Amreli district administration where in inter-district roads were blocked to restrict movement so as to control Covid-19 cases in Amreli. The petition sought that the order be set aside now and the court may direct the officials to forthwith open all the closed / blocked roads of Amreli district.
The state had filed earlier that “…in case the temporary closed roads are opened, the population of 15 lakh in Amreli district shall be exposed to risk of Covid-19.” The submissions were made at a time when no cases were reported from the district. Upon the said submissions by the state, the petitioner however sought that the application be disposed of. The same was done by the court.
Lockdown and curfew
Challenging the “legality and validity of the lockdown”, senior counsel Percy Kavina argued that the “restrictions imposed by the state government in the form of curfew after 9 pm is not reasonable and serves no good purpose.” It was also argued that the condition that the pillion rider on a two-wheeler should be related to the person riding the two-wheeler is “also unreasonable.”
To this effect, the court sought the state’s response.
Online teaching in schools
The division bench made it clear that it wanted the state government “to intervene and work out few modalities with the schools as regards to online teaching,” after noting this to be a “very serious and important” issue.
The court asked the state government to first regulate the timings so that it is uniform. It also asked the state to consider whether online teaching for “very small children” would be advisable. “We are saying so because a child studying in the nursery or in the first standard or second standard may remain exposed for a quite long time to the screen of the television or laptop or computer. This may affect not only the eyes of the small child, but also his overall health…,” the order observed.
In a petition seeking regulation of fees in private schools, including no hike in fees for the academic year of 2020-21 as well as the seeking the court’s directions to schools to not demand a consolidated fee, without distinguishing the various heads i.e., tuition fee, co-curricular activities fee etc, in light of the pandemic, the HC requested the advocate general representing the state government, Kamal Trivedi, to take up the issues with the state government at the earliest, while also requesting to ensure that admission of students who are unable to pay the fees by June 30 are not cancelled.
Tocilizumab stock and more infrastructure
An application has sought the court’s directions to the state to convert maximum hotels, stadiums, guest houses and circuit house for Covid-19 treatment facilities. The application also seeks the details of available stock across warehouses in the state of the immunosuppressive drug, Tocilizumab, which has purportedly been found effective to control the immune system from going on an overdrive.
The drug, as has been complained by many to have been unavailable, including by the AMA where it was submitted by the association that the drug is unavailable for private hospitals, the application has sought in this regard the court’s direction to the state to adopt a proper mechanism for sufficient supply to all government and private hospitals.
The application has also sought the court’s direction to make the price of the drug reasonable, which otherwise costs RS 3,000 or more.
The HC directed the state to file its response in this regard.
In a petition filed in mid-May seeking repatriation of stranded migrants in Gujarat free of any charge, the court sought a response from the state government. However, the division bench clarified that if any group of migrant labourers would like to go back to their respective native state, then “it shall be open for them to approach the collector of the district… We expect the state to render necessary help in this regard… The Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation is directed to ply its buses for transport of such migrants even outside Gujarat if required.”
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