"The medical health care system is woefully lacking," remarked the Uttarakhand High Court on Wednesday while hearing a batch of PILs concerning Covid-management during upcoming Kumbh Mela celebrations.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Manoj Kumar Tiwari observed that the State Government is too ill-prepared to tackle the demographic explosion that Haridwar is about to witness within a month.
"It is the foremost duty of the State to protect the people from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the foremost duty of the State to ensure that the lives of the people are not reduced to a mere animal existence. Therefore, while trying to organize a mega event, which is the largest congregation on the Planet Earth, it is the duty of the State to be thoroughly equipped for any contingency that may arise during the period of two months when the Kumbh Mela would be celebrated," the Bench reminded the Government.
The Full Kumbh Mela, organized every twelve years, and which attracts about a million people as per previous records, is scheduled to be held in Haridwar district from February 27, till April 27, i.e. for two months.
Thus, the Court had asked the authorities to apprise it with the steps it shall take to resolve the logistical/ health problems of organising such an event during an ongoing pandemic.
Based on a reply filed by the Government in this behalf, the Court observed,
"The availability of 5493 beds, with hardly 500 ventilators attached to 500 beds, is certainly an insufficient number of ventilators and beds available. Since Haridwar already has a residential population of twenty lakh, with the influx of fifty lakh people, the population is going to certainly skyrocket. Yet, the State Government is convinced that 5493 beds would be sufficient to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moreover, most surprisingly, while the State Government expects the entry of ten/fifty lakh people, it has no plans of constructing or erecting any tents for housing such a large population. It is rather inconceivable as to where ten/fifty lakh persons would be housed in the dead of the winter?
For, the city of Haridwar certainly would not have sufficient rooms available either in its dharamshalas, or its hotels or its motels for accommodating ten/fifty lakh people. The influx of such a large population would challenge the civic amenities available in the city and the district. Therefore, the stand taken by the State Government is rather enigmatic."
The State Government had informed the Court that it cannot close its borders. However, it has prepared well to deal with medical requirements of the incoming pilgrims and further, it shall take the following steps to discourage the arrival of large number of pilgrims:
- Advisories have been issued to the other States requesting them not to send too many pilgrims to Haridwar during the Kumbh Mela;
- The number of buses and trains would be curtailed;
- State Government does not plan to erect any tents for housing such a large number of pilgrims. Thus, lack of available accommodation would discourage people from attending the Kumbh Mela;
- Everyone intending to visit Haridwar during the Kumbh Mela would necessarily have to carry a COVID-19 medical certificate, certifying the fact that the said person is COVID-19 "negative". Such certificates, of the persons coming into the State, would be checked randomly by the deputed officers and personnel at the State borders, at the railway stations, and even at the airports;
- SOPs have been issued to the "dharamshalas" and "hotels" of Haridwar and Rishikesh, which specifically deal with the necessity of convincing people to use masks, sanitizers, and to maintain social distancing while they are housed in the dharamshalas and hotels;
- Government has proposed that fines will be imposed upon those, who violate the safety measures;
- Government will provide masks to those who will stay for the Kumbh Mela;
- About 8000 police personnel will be deployed and more persons from paramilitary forces will be utilized in order to ensure that social distancing is maintained, in order to ensure that people do follow COVID-19 protocols both in letter and spirit.
The Court was however highly dissatisfied with the 'rosy promises' made by the State Government.
It has now directed the State Government to provide all vital information with respect to the event to the Central Government, including details like expected number of devotees, the auspicious days (and the expected crowd surge), the arrangements being put in place by the State Government, including medical care arrangements, etc.
This will enable the Central Government to issue a SoP for the Kumbh Mela 2021.
Inter alia, the Court has ordered:
- State Government should also consider erection of sufficient number of tents, and the creation of tented layout, for housing such a large number of persons (approximately ten to fifty lakh) who would come to Haridwar city/district during the Kumbh Mela.
- State Government should seriously consider the increase in the medical health care system, both in terms of the physical infrastructure, in terms of the human resources, and in terms of the availability of the medical equipment which would be required in case the COVID-19 pandemic would spread its wings during the period of two months when the Kumbh Mela would be celebrated.
- State Government should immediately get in touch with the other State Governments, across the country, and to inform the public at large about the arrangements being made by it, about the necessity of reducing the number of persons entering the State, and coming to Haridwar for Kumbh Mela.
- State Government shall coordinate its effort under the guidance of the Central Government for tackling such a large gathering of people. For, the repercussions of the spread of COVID19 would not be limited only to the State of Uttarakhand, but it may also impact the entire country as a whole.
The Court has asked the Advocate General to submit a detailed report about the points mentioned hereinabove, by February 15. It has categorically directed that the said report should include the details about the availability of infrastructure in the Kumbh Mela area in particular, and in Haridwar city in general.
So far as health infrastructure is concerned, the Court has directed the District Judge, Haridwar to submit a report with regard to the availability and the extent of health care system functioning in Haridwar and Rishikesh, both in the government sector and the private one.
He is directed to inform the Court about the number of hospitals which are functioning; with regard to the availability of total number of beds; with regard to the availability of total number of beds equipped with ventilators; with regard to the availability of total number of beds equipped with oxygen cylinders; with regard to the general beds available with the hospitals.