The Supreme Court Wednesday agreed to entrust an inquiry into the August 6 Ahmedabad Covid-19 hospital fire to a committee that is also probing the November 27 blaze at a Rajkot Covid-19 hospital.
Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta suggested to the court that the Ahmedabad incident “may also be looked under the jurisdiction of the same committee so that an early report may be submitted and appropriate measures may be taken with regard to hospitals where fire broke resulting in death of several patients”.
The committee, chaired by retired High Court Judge Justice D A Mehta, was formed after the fire in the ICU of Rajkot’s Uday Shivanand Covid Hospital left five patients dead and six injured. In the Ahmedabad incident, too, eight Covid-19 patients in Shrey Hospital had died after a fire in the ICU.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah agreed to the Solicitor-General’s suggestion and said: “It will be open for the Government to do so by issuing appropriate notification.”
The bench, which had earlier expressed its unhappiness with the Gujarat government over multiple fire mishaps, Wednesday asked the state what steps it was taking to address the concerns.
The S-G told the bench that he had spoken with the state Home Minister and that steps were being taken.
As the senior law officer referred the court to the fact of the setting-up of the inquiry committee, Justice Shah remarked: “What kind of inquiry will be there by a committee which does not know about the incident in detail?…Now this is the third committee headed by a retired HC judge. Look at the attitude…”
S-G Mehta responded that the judges had been selected on the basis of their availability as many of them were heading tribunals and other bodies. He added that the government is open to the High Court Chief Justice appointing any judge to head it.
Mehta also told the bench that in view of the fire incidents, the Centre has issued a direction to all states to constitute a panel to look into fire safety in hospitals. Their data is now being compiled and will be filed along with an affidavit within three days, he said.
On December 3, the bench had expressed unhappiness over the enforcement of Covid-19 safety protocol by various state authorities. This came when it was staying a Gujarat High Court order on making community service in Covid-19 centres mandatory for those violating protocol.
Observing that there were large gatherings and marriage ceremonies with thousands in attendance, the court asked states to provide by December 7 suggestions on how they were planning to ensure adherence to safety protocol.
On Wednesday, the court said: “We further observe that steps taken by different States including the suggestions as was directed by this Court on 03.12.2020 be placed before this Court on the next date of hearing. A detailed affidavit by the Additional Chief Secretary, State of Gujarat may also be filed in compliance of our order dated 03.12.2020.”
The Supreme Court had taken suo motu cognisance of the Rajkot incident while hearing a matter related to the treatment of Covid-19 patients.