The Bombay High Court on Friday observed that Covid-19 patients belonging to economically weaker sections (EWS) were not expected to produce an income certificate before seeking admission at a hospital to avail benefits under the EWS scheme. The HC also directed the K J Somaiya Hospital and Research Centre, run by a charitable trust, to deposit Rs 10.06 lakh with its registry pending hearing on a plea alleging the hospital had overcharged Covid patients from the EWS category.
A division bench of Justice R D Dhanuka and Justice Madhav Jamdar heard the plea by Abdul Shoeb Shaikh and six others, filed through advocate Vivek Shukla, seeking an enquiry against the hospital for alleged exorbitant charges from the petitioners who were hospitalised for Covid-19 treatment between April 14 and 28.
Shukla submitted that petitioners, all slum dwellers, staying at Bharat Nagar, in Bandra (East), belonged to EWS as per Maharashtra Public Trust Act (MPT Act) and had sought a refund upon their discharge but had got no response from the hospital. The petitioners said they paid over Rs 10 lakh by taking loans from friends, relatives and neighbours after being threatened with discharge.
Senior advocate Janak Dwarkadas and advocates Ankit Lohia and Aziza Khatri, appearing for the hospital, submitted the petitioners did not belong to EWS category and they did not produce any record to prove eligibility. It was for them to produce certificates of income, Dwarkadas said. The petitioners argued they were suffering from Covid-19 and were in need of immediate medical help, and were not required to produce such certificates.
On June 12, the High Court had directed the state charity commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the grievances of the seven petitioners.
The state charity commissioner and Mumbai city collector were asked to file an affidavit as to whether the trust was liable to reserve 10 per cent beds in its hospital for EWS, and if it had fulfilled such conditions during the lockdown.
The bench on Friday perused the enquiry report filed by the joint charity commissioner and observed that “it was on the basis of documents called for and submitted by the hospital and without visiting the premises and inspecting all records”. The judges said it was an “undisputed position” that the scheme, under the MPT Act, requiring hospitals to earmark 10 per cent beds for the EWS and another 10 per cent for indigent persons, was applicable to Somaiya Hospital.
It said as per records and reply filed by the state charity commissioner, of the 90 beds earmarked for persons from EWS and indigent persons, all such beds had not been made available and the report “clearly indicated” that only three patients were admitted in March until the end of May. The bench, led by Justice Dhanuka, said it was not inclined to accept hospital’s submissions at this stage and observed, “In our prima facie view, a person who is suffering from the disease like Covid-19 is not expected to produce a certificate from the tehsildar or social welfare officer before seeking admission in the hospital for seeking benefits under the EWS scheme.” The court directed the hospital to deposit Rs 10.06 lakh within two weeks and said the plea will be heard in an expedited manner.