The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court has directed various central and state government agencies, including municipal bodies, to conduct real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests on all “frontline workers” from government departments involved in controlling the coronavirus outbreak at Vidarbha’s hospitals and containment zones “upon expressing their willingness for it”.
A division bench of Justice Ravi Deshpande and Justice Amit Borkar passed the order on a PIL filed by Nagpur-based NGO, Citizen Forum for Equality, on Monday.
The bench also directed Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) to issue guidelines and protocol for such tests in Vidarbha.
“The central and state governments, in our view, have taken it upon themselves the responsibility under Article 47, as a part of guarantee under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, to save and protect the lives of the people, more particularly, the frontline workers from Covid-19. In the cluster of rights under Article 21 of the Constitution, the right to save and protect the life is on top and in this pandemic situation, neither the central nor the state government can keep the fate of the frontline workers hanging and compel them to perform their jobs and discharge their duties without fear or assurance of safety and protection of their own life and the lives of the family members,” the bench said.
“Their life is more precious because they are warriors and saviours, compromising or putting their own life at stake to save the lives of others. There cannot be any compromise in respect of it,” the bench observed.
The bench also rapped Nagpur Municipal Commissioner Tukaram Mundhe for citing various reasons as to why such tests could not be undertaken.
“We have not been pointed out any basis for the claim that there is globally a limited availability of RT-PCR testing reagents/kits. It is a stand gathered from the reply of the respondents that RT-PCR testing of frontline workers in direct and high-risk contacts of laboratory confirmed case is nothing but indiscriminate use of RT-PCR kits, which has to be discouraged. It is also the stand taken by the respondent No 6 — the commissioner, Nagpur Municipal Corporation, that if the frontline workers of Covid-19 are to be tested on RT-PCR method, then it would cause the state exchequer heavily and the Nagpur Municipal Corporation will be required to deploy more manpower for conducting such tests, and that the frontline workers are discharging their duties under protective gear and, hence, the claim for testing on RT-PCR method cannot be accepted. In our view, such a stand is not only ridiculous, but it reflects the conduct, contemptuous of the fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution,” the bench noted.
“We hold that all asymptomatic frontline workers in hospitals and containment zones declared by district collectors or commissioners, municipal corporation or the chief officers, municipal councils or such other competent authorities in the entire Vidarbha region, shall be entitled to be tested on RT-PCR method on expressing their willingness, if they are found to be in direct and high-risk contact of laboratory-confirmed cases,” the bench ordered.
The bench also directed the ICMR to “frame appropriate policy and prescribe protocol for periodical testing of frontline workers in the entire Vidarbha region within a period of one week from today”.
“The state of Maharashtra, the district collectors or the commissioners, municipal corporations or the chief officers, municipal councils or the competent authorities in Vidarbha region are directed to immediately start testing of frontline workers on RT-PCR method… upon expressing their willingness for it, in accordance with the guidelines and protocol to be prescribed by ICMR,” the bench added.
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