The Bombay High Court on Friday prima facie observed that Covid-19 patients belonging to economically weaker sections (EWS) were not expected to produce an income certificate before seeking admission in the hospital for seeking benefits under the EWS scheme. The HC 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 overcharging by the hospital to Covid patients from the EWS category.
A division bench of Justices R D Dhanuka and Madhav Jamdar heard, through video conference, the plea by one Abdul Shoeb Shaikh and six others, filed through advocate Vivek Shukla, seeking from the court an enquiry against the hospital for alleged exorbitant charges collected by it from the petitioners who were admitted for Covid-19 treatment between April 14 and 28.
Shukla submitted that petitioners, all slum dwellers, staying in Bharat Nagar, Bandra (East) belonged to EWS as per Maharashtra Public Trust Act (MPT Act) and had sought refund of charges upon their discharge but had got no response from hospital authorities. The petitioners said they paid over Rs. 10 lakh by taking loans from friends, relatives and neighbours after being threatened with discharge.
It was submitted that the hospital exorbitantly charged various unnecessary amounts, including anaesthetist fees, while no such services were availed by them and resorted to profiteering.
Senior Advocate Janak Dwarkadas and advocates Ankit Lohia and Aziza Khatri for the hospital submitted that the petitioners did not belong to EWS categories and they did not produce any record to prove their eligibility. It was for the petitioners to produce certificates of income through Tehsildar or Social Welfare officer, Dwarkadas said.
However, petitioners argued that they, having suffered from Covid-19 and were in need of immediate medical help, were not required to produce such certificates while seeking admission in the hospital.
The HC had on June 12 had directed the state charity commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the grievances of seven petitioners and also to file an affidavit as to whether the trust was liable to reserve 10 per cent beds in its hospital for the EWS and if it had fulfilled such conditions during the lockdown period.
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 a scheme under the MPT Act requiring hospitals to earmark 10 per cent beds for EWS and 10 per cent for indigent persons was applicable to Somaiya Hospital.
It said that as per records and the reply filed by the state charity commissioner, out of 90 beds earmarked for persons from EWS and indigent persons, all such beds had not been made available and report “clearly indicated” that only three patients were admitted by the hospital in March, 2020 until end of May, this year.
The bench said whether it was the duty of the management of the hospitals to enquire whether persons seeking admission were falling under those categories or whether they were required to produce income certificates in the situation faced by the petitioners who were patients of Covid-19 are some of the questions which require consideration in present case.
After examining the material on record, the bench said it was not inclined to accept the 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 Tehsildar or Social Welfare Officer before seeking admission in the hospital for seeking benefits under the EWS scheme.”
Considering the facts of the case, the court directed the hospital to deposit a sum of Rs. 10,06,205 within two weeks and said that the plea will be heard in expedited manner.
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