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Telangana HC stays state govt’s contentious circular regulating entry of COVID-19 patients

Calling the circular ‘discriminatory’ and violating the right to life as guaranteed by the Constitution of India, the High Court issued notices to governments of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and the Center.

Written by Rahul V Pisharody | Hyderabad |
May 15, 2021 12:02:21 pm
Telanagana covid patients, Telangana high court, Telangana entry of COVID-19 patients, Telangana government, Telangana govt circular on patients, Indian expressCitizens stand in a queue to undergo COVID-19 testing, as coronavirus cases surge across the country, at Government Fever Hospital in Hyderabad. (PTI Photo)

The Telangana High Court Friday stayed the state government’s contentious circular regulating entry of COVID-19 patients seeking emergency medical treatment in Hyderabad.

Calling the circular ‘discriminatory’ and violating the right to life as guaranteed by the Constitution of India, the High Court issued notices to governments of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and the Center.

Stopping ambulances at the state borders on Thursday was based on a letter from Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar, dated May 11, to Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories with detailed guidelines and instructions to the general public. The letter came to public notice only on May 13.

On Thursday night, Veera Reddy S, a private employee from AP’s Kadapa district, spent hours pleading to officials at Pullur toll plaza, at Telangana-Andhra Pradesh border, around 200 km away from Hyderabad, despite having in possession a letter from a Hyderabad hospital stating a bed reservation for his COVID positive father. According to him, he was among several patients stopped from further proceeding to Hyderabad for medical treatment.

This was not the first time an ambulance carrying COVID-19 patients was prevented from entering Telangana despite desperate pleas from families. After reports of several such instances emerged on Monday, the Telangana High Court had intervened in the matter on May 11. Observing that stopping ambulances carrying COVID-19 patients at interstate borders was ‘unconstitutional’, the Court had said that the government may choose to regulate the entry of patients from other states only after issuing a Circular with advance notice.

Ambulances wait at state borders, relatives send SOS on social media

Late night on May 13, Veera Reddy tweeted to Telangana minister KT Rama Rao about the ordeal.

“@KTRTRS Dear KTR garu, My father(with Covid symptoms) is waiting at Telangana boarder toll gate and we have the reserved bed in Hyderabad hospital. Control room person says that no officer available to review the request and confirm the entry. Please help to enter to Hyd.” (sic). Till Friday evening, 242 people retweeted his original tweet, 230 liked it, and 35 posted their comments.

After waiting at the toll plaza for nearly 11 hours with his father supported on oxygen supply, Reddy returned to Kurnool scurrying for hospital beds. Speaking to IndianExpress.com over the phone, Reddy said they waited from 10.30 pm Thursday to 9.30 am on Friday and had to return to Kurnool as they could not wait any longer.

“Despite carrying a letter from the hospital, police told us that they cannot let us cross over. They said the hospital should first call up the control room and share details of the patient. The officials would verify the information and only then grant permission to travel. But what happened is that our doctors did contact the control room and received no response,” he said. Waiting for a bed outside a Kurnool hospital, Reddy said, “They (police) made us wait till morning saying we will be allowed to go at 6.30 a.m. They didn’t. Many people are suffering here. I wish no one faces the same fate as my father. I will state the facts before anyone,” he added. In the afternoon, he said his father N Raghava Reddy (65) was yet to find a hospital bed.

Reddy said he received calls from Minister KTR’s office as well as from Congress MP Revanth Reddy’s office but yet no help came his way.

In a similar instance, a woman from Tirupati shared her video crying for help from beside her husband on oxygen support inside an ambulance that was stopped at a state border. “I don’t know if my husband will make it as his oxygen levels are dropping, please allow us to go,” she requested. Responding to a tweet, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi said: “I have spoken to the Director Public Health, Mr Srinivas Rao he will be informing the concerned police officials.” (sic)

Nearly 45 percent of active patients in hospitals are from other states: DPH

On Friday, Telangana’s Director of Public Health (DPH), Dr. G Srinivasa Rao told reporters that he had personally granted permissions to five patients. “Our teams are working round the clock and approvals are being given in a matter of a few minutes,” he stated. Explaining the process, he said that patients should not contact the control room and should only ensure confirmation of a bed before traveling to the state for treatment.

“The hospital should contact us in the prescribed format and share the patient’s information. We will examine the details and issue permits to the hospital. The authorization letter will be shared with our multi-disciplinary teams at the border to allow them to proceed. It is a hassle-free process. Only if anyone does not have the necessary permissions, they are stopped at the borders,” he said, adding that a medical authorization letter from the control room is necessary while the E-pass is not required.

After the Telangana High Court stayed the government’s decision to regulate the entry of patients from other states, Dr. Rao was not available for his comment despite phone calls. The superintendent of Jogulamba Gadwal district police under whom the Pullur toll plaza falls, too, was not available for his comment over the phone.

According to Dr. Rao, nearly 45 percent of the total 28,800 patients currently under treatment in the state were residents of AP, Chhattisgarh, and Maharashtra. “In the second wave, 80-90 percent of ICU and Oxygen beds are already occupied. Around 45 percent of our total patients are from other states. We have not sent anyone back without treatment. Our resources are limited. We only want patients to avail of our services in a systematic manner,” he told reporters.

The Contentious decision

The Chief Secretary’s letter, which is now set aside by the High Court, says several COVID patients are traveling to Telangana for treatment without a prior tie-up with any hospital in the state. As such patients are likely to lose crucial time and potentially spread the infection, guidelines are issued to streamline hospitalization. The letter says patients from other states shall have prior tie-up with a hospital in Telangana for admission.

The hospitals should share the details of the patient in a prescribed format with the control room via a landline number, or via WhatsApp or email. The control room will issue an authorization to travel based on the hospital’s proposal, based on which the patient can travel to Telangana for hospitalization.

Hours after the Telangana High Court’s intervention, on Friday evening, the superintendent of Kurnool district police in AP, Dr. Fakkeerappa Kaginelli tweeted once again saying the situation at the interstate border has not eased up yet. Sharing photos of AP police attending to such patients in need, he tweeted: “Situation in AP-TS border not yet eased, ambulances are still detained at TS border. 2 patients are on oxygen, brought oxygen cylinders from police hospital Kurnool and connected them as patients were running short of O2 supply @APPOLICE100.”

At around 9.07 pm, he tweeted once again with the hashtag ‘sigh of relief’ as Telangana police started letting ambulances pass through the border. “Update of TS-AP border issue: #SighOfRelief TS Police just now started releasing ambulances filed up at borders Patients are being moved towards #Hyderabad @APPOLICE100”

“When we fought for a united Andhra Pradesh, we were told that if the state were to be divided, we, on the Andhra side, would need a VISA to travel to Hyderabad. After 7 years, is that what the Telangana government wants to prove right?,” asked Veera Reddy. The state of Telangana was carved out of united Andhra Pradesh in June 2014, leaving Hyderabad as the common capital of both states till 2024. AP moved its capital to Amaravathi a few years ago, vacating most of its administration out of Hyderabad. Following the latest developments at the state border, political leaders from Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy to Congress MP Revanth Reddy have called for the chief ministers of both Telugu states to discuss and resolve the matter.

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