Updated: May 6, 2021 7:25:34 pm
The Delhi High Court on Thursday said medical infrastructure in Delhi has been “completely exposed” when put to the test during the pandemic, and rejected Delhi government’s submission that oxygen supply was the only issue currently ailing its health sector. The court said the system in the country today has failed because people do not demand enough and elect governments without asking for accountability.
“Now you are also behaving like an ostrich with the head in the sand,” the division bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli told the Delhi government, adding it had earlier given a similar response to the statement made by the Centre before it.
Prior to the court’s observations, senior advocate Rahul Mehra, who represents the Delhi government, submitted that infrastructure is struggling for various reasons and requested the court to not say existing medical infrastructure is in “shambles” as “it gives a different connotation”. “The infrastructure is there to support everything. But the lack of oxygen… what can infrastructure do,” he said.
However, the court said, “No No. Don’t say only oxygen. As if you have everything else. Is that what you are saying?”
When Mehra said 15,000 beds are in the pipeline, the court responded, “Pipeline is pipeline. They are not there.” When Mehra submitted that hospitals were reducing beds because of lack of oxygen, the court reminded him of the observation it made to the central government counsel on May 4. “When you defend this position, then we are not rising above politics,” said the court.
The court then referred to the incident of a lawyer’s brother-in-law passing away for lack of an ICU bed while his petition was being heard by the court: “When Mr (Amit) Sharma’s brother-in-law passed away, we all felt that the State has failed. What answer do we give to family?”
Saying that he only wanted to state the reasons behind the infrastructure failure, Mehra withdrew the statement and apologised to the court.
The court said the “reasons are that people of this country are not demanding enough. They elect a government without insisting that they fulfill their promises… without really looking at the relevant issues. Because we do not plan. What is our planned expenditure on health?”
The court made the observations while passing an order in the petition of a 52-year-old patient who is suffering from Covid-19 and urgently requires an ICU bed. The court was told by his counsel that his SP02 level has fallen below 42 but the hospital where he is admitted does not have any ICU bed and authorities, including the Centre and Delhi government, be directed to provide him the same in any other hospital in the national capital.
Observing that Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the most fundamental basic right, which is the right to life and liberty to every person, the bench said it cannot turn him away by merely telling him that the state does not have the infrastructure to deal with his condition because all ICU beds are already taken by other patients.
“We are sworn to protect fundamental rights of the people, therefore, we are bound to issue writ to the state to provide the infrastructure to enable the petitioner to undergo treatment that is required to save his life. He requires an ICU bed with a ventilator facility, ideally speaking the same should be made available to him,” the bench added.
However, it also said the court cannot lose sight of the fact that there are thousands of others who are afflicted with the same disease in the city and whose condition may be as bad, if not worse. “They would have an equal claim to secure an ICU bed with a ventilator facility,” it said, adding merely because the petitioner has been able to approach the court through his counsel “cannot be a reason to pass an order so as to allow him to steal a march over others similarly situated”.
It directed authorities in the Centre and Delhi government to provide the facility for medical treatment “as may be required” to all residents of Delhi, and said merely because it has passed order in the petitioner’s case would not mean that he has any right to claim any preferential treatment since the order would ensure to the benefit all those similar situated.
“In case they require simple hospitalisation and medicine, the same would be provided. In case they require oxygen support, the same would be provided. In case they require admission to ICU with or without ventilator, it shall be the obligation of the state to provide,” said the court in general to the governments.
The bench earlier said obligation of the state to provide sufficient infrastructure to protect the lives of people cannot be understated. “At the same time, one cannot lose sight of the fact that we are faced with once in a century pandemic and even most economically advanced nations have found their infrastructure to be lacking to deal with the massive surge of cases of Covid-19,” it added.
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