Responding to a plea seeking intensive care unit (ICU) facilities be set up for Covid-19 patients in trains, the Railways told the Bombay High Court on Thursday that it was not possible to convert the coaches into ICUs without making extensive modifications.
The ministry added that while the coaches can be used as Covid care centres to provide isolation and quarantine facilities to suspected, confirmed, mild and very mild Covid-19 patients, they are not to be used as hospitals as per the advice of the Union Ministry of Health.
While disposing the plea, the HC observed that in the current situation, conversion of coaches into ICUs is not warranted and left the decision to the authorities.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice M S Karnik was hearing a plea filed by Naresh Kapur, through advocates Prerak Choudhary and Jigar Kamdar. The HC, on June 23, had directed the Union government to file an affidavit indicating the steps taken by Western and Central Railway (CR) to convert coaches into isolation or quarantine centres and why ICU facilities in coaches are not considered necessary.
An affidavit filed by Chief Rolling Stock Engineer (CR) Rupesh Kohli earlier this week stated that such changes would require elaborate design support that could be carried out only when the coaches are being manufactured.
On why ICU facilities were not considered necessary in the coaches, the Railways said, “Since the converted coaches were designed and meant to serve only very mild Covid-19 positive patients or only as isolation centres, no ICU-type facilities were felt essential or are available.”
It added that while setting up isolation facilities in coaches is a temporary arrangement till Railways begins regular operations, such modifications, if made, could not be reversed to make the coaches again fit for passenger use. “…Further, conversion of non-AC coaches to ICU may require major structural changes, which are practically not possible. Hence, ICU facility in coaches was not considered necessary.”
The reply further stated that CR had converted 482 non-AC coaches on 24 rakes into makeshift isolation centres across Maharashtra. However, no request to utilise these rakes has been received by the state, Railways said.
The court observed, “Presently, the situation is not such that conversion of coaches into ICU units is warranted. That apart, whether to convert or not must be left to the decision of the executive.”
It further directed the central and state governments, along with civic bodies, to consider the desirability of adding to the existing ICU facilities in whatever manner it thinks best, in the event the situation worsens in future and the demand for more ICU units increases.
Disposing the plea, the bench ruled, “We have no doubt in our mind that the respondents shall not leave any stone unturned to preserve the lives of citizens despite these testing times and devise ways and means for reaching out to people in distress by providing proper and adequate healthcare and medical treatment.”
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