In a significant move, the Bombay High Court last Friday while hearing a suo motu PIL regarding newspaper reports criticizing the work done for controlling and preventing the spread of Covid-19 in Aurangabad district, observed that if any members of the general public may have grievances regarding lack of supply of essential goods especially in containment zones, denial of admission in a hospital or grievances regarding the treatment received should approach the Court directly.
Division bench of Justice TV Nalawade and Justice MG Sewlikar of Aurangabad bench had previously expressed grave concern about the rising number of cases in Aurangabad and warned strict action against those public servants and officials appointed for fighting the pandemic of coronavirus, who refuse to show up for work, Court even warned of a surprise visit to hospitals and quarantine centres to ensure that their is discipline in the concerned staff.
At the outset, the bench appreciated the work done by authorities from Aurangabad District during the lockdown of nine days which was declared in July and said that due to cooperation of the citizens, it became successful. Court also observed that there was cooperation amongst the officers of Corporation under the leadership of Municipal Commissioner, officers of revenue department under the leadership of Divisional Commissioner/District Collector and police officers under the leadership of Police Commissioner and DSP(Rural) during the lockdown period.
However, Court noted that positive cases of Covid-19 continued to rise in other areas
"It appears that only the authority from the Aurangabad district is feeling that it is bound by the orders made by this Court. This Court had already observed that the condition created in Jalgaon district is also alarming. That continues to be alarming and no concrete steps appear to be taken in Jalgaon district. In other districts which are under the jurisdiction of this Court, the figure of infected persons is on the rise and today there is news item that during last 24 hours more than 117 infected persons were detected in Nanded district."
Moreover, Court said that on one hand the number of infected persons in the city area is coming down and on the other hand the number of infected persons from rural areas is going up and the trend is still in upward direction.
The bench observed-
"It is unfortunate, but it is a fact that when the virus spread initially in cities like Pune, Mumbai, Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) etc. many persons from this area started returning to their native places. Many of the persons of those areas have purchased properties in smaller cities, though by way of investment or by having resort center in rural area and there they shifted themselves. Even when inter-district travel is prevented and the prevention is continued till 31st August of this year, the persons were able to go to those places even without having passes issued by the authority and due to that there is spread of virus in village area."
Thereafter, it is mentioned that recently, Justice TV Nalawade went to Jalna for court inspection. He noticed that there was no strict checking and the police force (2-3 constables) posted there were not asking to show pass to anybody. They were making casual inquiry with the travellers and they were allowing the vehicles from Aurangabad side to Jalna side.
This approach must have helped in spreading of the virus in parts of this region. Strict vigil needs to be kept and unless that is done, the authorities will not be in a position to control the things. This Court hopes that proper steps in that regard will be taken, Court said.
Furthermore, Justice Nalawade noticed at 11 am when he was crossing boundary of Aurangabad and entering Jalna, that there were some police constables and some staff of the corporation and revenue department who were intercepting vehicles coming from Jalna and were asking the persons who were entering Aurangabad area to undergo antigen test. When Justice Nalawade was returning from Jalna at 4 pm such screening was not there and there was laxity and anybody could enter Aurangabad from Jalna area at that time.
Thus, Court reiterated that the public servants need to be tested and "the servants who are useless need to be removed from the service by filing complaints against them in police station under the special Enactments like Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, Disaster Management Act, 2005 etc."
Court also referred to articles about cases of medical negligence that have taken place during the pandemic and refusal of admission or treatment to poor people and said-
"In our society there are many who cannot afford to pay charges of private hospitals. It is learnt that many poor persons and the persons who have no influence are not able to get admissions in hospitals even when they are infected. It will be the subject of research to find out the number of poor persons who died at residential places due to such conditions, but they went unnoticed by anybody. It can be said that they spread virus as they remain at residential places, but the blame cannot be put on them as it is the fault of our system that we did not either spot them or attend them. Such incidents are more in rural areas and so proper attention needs to be paid to the rural area."
Finally, Court observed that due to aforesaid circumstances, it is necessary to allow all those persons who have grievance with regard to the care and treatment of infected persons and others to approach this Court directly. They may give grievance in writing to this Court either by post or on E-mail or through Advocate. The grievances may be of following nature :-
(i) There was no supply of necessary items in the containment zone.
(ii) There was no supply of ration from fair price shops to the card holders and others.
(iii) There was no center created where the relatives of infected persons or infected persons can go to get admission in hospital.
(iv) The officers or authority did not help them in getting admission in hospital.
(v) Any hospital did not give admission to them even when authority had directed that hospital to admit the patient.
(vi) They have doubt that necessary treatment was not given and the medicines and injections which are supplied by them or Government were not actually utilized by the doctors.
Court sought information from the state in respect of reservation of beds in designated hospitals and use of those beds, availability of ventilators and the deaths due to non-availability of ventilators and action taken against negligence shown in treatment if complaints were received in that regard.
In conclusion, Court told Public Prosecutor DR Kale to see that the intention of the Court to consider individual complaints, is given publicity up to village level. Court said that part of the order is to be used for informing the public that they can approach this Court directly for informing their grievances against the concerned public servant and also against the private hospitals and others.
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