New Delhi: The Gujarat High Court has warned against “misuse” of its orders and attempts to politicise the pandemic on social media platforms as it issued another set of directions in a suo motu PIL on Covid-19.
The high court had taken suo motu cognisance of the “precautionary measures in the wake of the pandemic of coronavirus (Covid-19)”, on 13 March. A bench comprising Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Ashutosh J. Shastri had initiated the petition and the court has since issued a slew of orders related to Covid-19.
On Friday, a bench comprising Chief Justice Nath and Justice J.B. Pardiwal noted that its orders were being “misused for some oblique motive”.
“Merely criticising the government in power is not going to magically cure people of COVID 19, nor is it going to make the dead come back to life…By politicising this issue one would in fact be downplaying the widespread suffering it has caused and further would be placing politics and political intent before the aim of helping and saving lives,” it observed.
The court requested people to be “very careful from now onward before commenting or entering into any debate with regard to Court orders” being passed in public interest.
It called for cooperation and constructive criticism to be used as weapons by the state government and said people not helping tackle the crisis have no “right to criticise” authorities either.
“If the State Government would not have been doing anything, as alleged, then probably, by now, we all would have been dead. All that we are doing in this litigation is to keep the State Government conscious and active by reminding its constitutional and statutory obligations,” it added.
The court also added the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) as a respondent, directing it to answer people’s questions on its testing policies.
The bench has asked the ICMR to explain the manner in which it wants private hospitals and laboratories to get accredited to conduct tests, and whether its guidelines are binding on the state government or only recommendatory in nature.
‘No life should be lost due to negligence’
The court had begun its proceedings Friday by taking into account the report filed by the state government on issues that were highlighted by the bench in the last two hearings.
The bench lauded the state government for improving conditions at the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad, a week after it came down heavily on authorities for the facility’s “dungeon-like” condition. The hospital, which is the main government Covid-19 unit in Gujarat, has been armed with more ventilators and medical officers.
The bench, however, said it was going to “keep a close watch” on the functioning of the hospital and asked the government to make sure no lives were lost due to negligence or non-attendance.
“No citizen of this country should gather a feeling that he is being treated differently than a person with necessary resources,” the court said.
Apart from the additional medical equipment at the Civil Hospital, the state government also informed that a committee of four doctors had been constituted to look into the anonymous letter that was taken into consideration by the court on 22 May.
Written by a 25-year-old resident doctor at the Civil Hospital, the letter had pointed out lapses in the hospital’s functioning and its management of Covid-19 patients.
The court was also informed that increasing number of patients may force authorities to restrict admissions to the Civil Hospital. Warning against it, the bench said action would be initiated against departments concerned if any bed was found to be vacant.
Ceiling rates, pre-deposit for private hospitals modified
Since the court had earlier directed renegotiation of the ceiling rates at which private/corporate hospitals were to admit and treat Covid-19 patients, the government Friday informed it that the rates have been reduced by 5 to 10 per cent depending on the services provided.
The Ahmedabad Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association, however, took objection to the use of the phrase “exorbitant fees” by the court in its earlier order. To this, the court said it only wanted to convey how all residents may not be able to afford fees charged by private/corporate hospitals, even as it warned that the association “should not think of even making profit of one rupee”.
The court said the state government may initiate legal proceedings against hospitals trying to exploit the current situation or engage in profiteering.
The bench also modified its 22 May order telling private hospitals to not demand fees in advance from patients and recover the amount later if her or his PAN card details reveal that she or he is capable of making the payment.
On Friday, the court said there will be no pre-deposit if a patient is referred to a private facility by a government hospital. But if a patient comes to the private hospital directly, the facility is entitled to demand an advance.
‘Chance of fear psychosis if asymptomatic people are tested’
In its 22 May order, the court had directed initiation of legal proceedings against those hospitals that were unwilling to treat Covid-19 patients, despite an understanding with the government. The authorities Friday informed the court that all hospitals have consented to treating infected patients.
The government has also formed a three-member expert committee to look into the testing policy for Covid-19, as had been suggested by the court during its last hearing.
As for testing asymptomatic people, the government submitted that testing asymptomatic cases might lead to a “fear psychosis”.