The Bombay High Court on Tuesday dismissed a public interest litigation filed by Sagar Jondhale a 42-year-old educationist and social worker who sought directions to the State of Maharashtra to provide free treatment to all citizens of Maharashtra who test positive for Covid-19, including free treatment at private hospitals and imposed a cost of Rs.5 lakh payable to the State.
Division bench of Chief justice Dipankar Datta and Justice KK Tated held that the money will be utilized by the State for relief activities to ameliorate the plight of people in these difficult times. If costs, as directed above, are not paid by the petitioner within a month from date, the State shall be at liberty to recover the same from him as arrears of land revenue, the bench said.
The petitioner had challenged a notification dated May 21, 2020 issued by the Principal Secretary, Department of Public Health, Government Of Maharashtra seeking for directions for it to be declared null and void and directions to the State of Maharashtra to provide Covid-19 treatment to all citizens totally free of cost in all hospitals, including private hospitals.
Advocate Anand Jondhale appeared on behalf of the petitioner and regarding the point of maintainability relied upon several decisions of the Supreme Court as well as the High Court to persuade the Bench rule in favour of the PIL.
It is the duty and obligation of the State to provide for health and medicare services for all the citizens free of cost and that the State of Maharashtra has utterly failed to live up to the expectations of the people during this period of crises. The impugned notification does not take into consideration the plight of a vast cross-section of people who are not in a position to afford treatment in private hospitals and the State ought to rise to the occasion and make arrangements for their free treatment, Jondhale submitted.
After perusing through the impugned notification, court noted-
"It was issued taking note of the situation at the ground level that persons who are not covered by any health insurance product or who have exhausted their health insurance cover, were being charged exorbitantly causing hardship to the public in general during the pandemic. It is further evident that its terms require hospitals, nursing homes, dispensaries, to make all attempts to increase their bed capacity to accommodate maximum number of patients, of which 80% of total operational bed capacity would be regulated by prescribed rates in the impugned notification. This would also apply to isolation and non-isolations beds, meaning that 80% of isolation beds available with any healthcare provider under such notification should be regulated by State Government/District Collectors/Municipal Commissioners and so also the 80% of non isolation beds. Healthcare providers, however, have been allowed to charge their rack rates to the remaining 20% beds."
Thus, the bench concluded that there is no compulsion on any citizen to take treatment from private facilities-
"It is entirely left to the option of the patient as to which of the facilities he would prefer, i.e., facilities in private or public hospitals. There is also no discrimination between the rich and the poor. Even a rich and a poor person alike can take admission in the 80% reserved category of beds, and pay at the rate prescribed."
Observing that it is settled law that the mechanics of price fixation is necessarily to be left to the judgment of the executive and unless it is patent that there is hostile discrimination against a class of persons, Court said-
"To urge the Bench to direct the State to provide for treatment of a patient free of cost, in these circumstances, appears to us to be preposterous. None of the decisions cited by Mr.Jondhale lays down such a proposition. This Bench has no hesitation to hold that the Petitioner has utterly failed to demonstrate any infringement of any fundamental right or abrogation of any statutory provision by the State so as to adversely affect any class of people, thereby warranting judicial intervention. It is an absolutely frivolous PIL Petition deserving dismissal in limine with exemplary costs.
For the reasons aforesaid, this PIL Petition stands dismissed at the threshold with costs assessed at Rs.5,00,000, to be paid to the State. The said amount shall be utilized by the State for relief activities to ameliorate the plight of people in these difficult times. If costs, as directed above, are not paid by the Petitioner within a month from date, the State shall be at liberty to recover the same from him as arrears of land revenue."
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