June 29, 2021 3:38:59 am
Observing that there were “serious issues relating to supply of oxygen” at Goa Medical College (GMC) in May, the High Court of Bombay at Goa on Monday said that “some lessons” will have to be learnt from the incident so that “numerous causalities that arose, especially at GMC, may not have been in vain”.
Disposing of all but one PIL filed by the South Goa Advocates Association related to Covid-19 management, a division bench of Justices M S Sonak and M S Jawalkar said it was neither possible nor advisable for the court to micromanage issues related to Covid-19.
Taking note of various suggestions made by petitioners in the PILs, and the state government’s response to these, the court said, “There was no clarity as to whether there was a deficiency in oxygen reserves or whether there were logistical difficulties in the matter of actual supply of oxygen to patients. Therefore, we were constrained to make orders and issue directions in this regard.”
The bench noted that state government statistics indicate that from 1,481 deaths took place in May out of total 3,013 Covid-related deaths as of June 24 in Goa. It said the figures show almost 740 deaths took place at the GMC, which catered to most of Goa’s critical patients.
“Now that the tide of Covid 19 cases has ebbed, there is no scope for any complacency. Rather, this period must be utilised to make preparations to meet the projected consequences of a possible third wave,” the court observed.
The court also noted that the committee appointed by the state government on May 13 to inquire into the oxygen supply issues at GMC, which was supposed to submit its report in three days, has not submitted its report so far.
Advocate General D J Pangam had told the court that some members of the committee had themselves been affected by Covid-related issues, and that the report will be submitted “within reasonable time”.
The court said: “According to us, the report ought to have been submitted at the earliest, when issues relating to the supply of oxygen or logistics involved were at their peak. …Be that as it may, at least now the report should be submitted by this Committee within a reasonable period of a maximum of four weeks….the report will at least assist the State Administration in effectively addressing the issues of oxygen supply at the Goa Medical College.”
In their 51-page order, the judges also wrote: “Some lessons will also have to be necessarily learned from the experience of the disastrous consequences of the second wave when during the interval between the first and second waves, the State of Goa was brimming with tourists and others who were granted entry without any restrictions.”
The court said the expert committee consisting of doctors should deliberate on this vital issue. The state task force led by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, and including Health Minister Vishwajit Rane, must take into account recommendations of the committee “before they take any decisions on such vital issues concerning the curtailment of curfew, unlocking procedures, etc,” the court said.
Sawant had earlier said that the government would urge the High Court to allow entry into Goa for those who had received both shots of the vaccine against Covid-19. Such individuals may not be required to produce a Covid-negative certificate, he had said.
While Pangam brought the issue up before the court on Monday, Justice Sonak said it may be considered by the committee of experts appointed by the state government. “From the records, we find that the expert committee has not met for quite some time. We would therefore request the committee to meet at the earliest,” the court observed.
While lawyers for petitioners Akash Rebello and Nigel Costa Frias had urged the court to direct the state government to insist on more reliable test reports — such as RT-PCR — while allowing people to enter Goa, the state government, currently allowing entry even on the basis of a negative Rapid Antigen Test report, said that the test was approved by ICMR.
The court said this issue may also be considered by the expert committee.
The Goa government had earlier told the court that a judicial inquiry to probe the deaths of Covid-19 patients in government hospitals due to shortage of oxygen, as demanded by the petitioners, may demoralise doctors, healthcare workers and bureaucrats who had worked through the pandemic.
The bench observed, “…it will not be appropriate to consider the issue of setting up a judicial commission to inquire into the deaths at Goa Medical College in May 2021, or the issue of payment of compensation in these petitions. This is because there are no proper pleadings in any of the petitions on this issue. By merely filing some miscellaneous application, which is also quite vague, the petitioners cannot seek such a relief.”
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