Expressing serious reservations about the manner in which the Gujarat Government is handling the COVID-19 situation in the state, the Gujarat High Court on Monday observed that the "reality is contrary to what the government claims".
A division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Bhargav Karia has sought an affidavit from Advocate General Kamal Trivedi on the further steps taken by the State in relation to COVID-19 control. The affidavit should also place on record the submissions of the Advocate General disputing the accuracy of the news reports about the grim pandemic situation in the state, which had prompted the High Court to take suo moto cognizance of the issue.
"We cannot say that all these news reports are trash, they have some substance", CJ Vikram Nath orally told the Advocate General.
"We are not happy with certain policies of the government. No doubt it is doing its best, but some things need to be corrected", the bench observed.
The bench asked the Central Government's counsel if the Centre can intervene if it feels that the State is not doing well.
"When Centre feels that a State is not doing well, why can't it intervene?" CJ Nath asked ASG Devang Vyas, who was appearing for Centre
"People now think that they are at God's mercy," the bench orally observed during the hearing.
After Advocate General Kamal Trivedi informed the high court about steps taken by the Gujarat government to tackle the COVID-19 situation, the court said the reality is quite different from what the government claims.
"The situation is quite different than what you are claiming. You are saying that everything is alright. But, the reality is contrary to that," the high court said during the hearing held via video-conferencing.
There is a "trust deficit" among people, it observed.
"There is no shortage of remdesivir (a key anti-viral drug). Everything is available with you. We want results, not reasons," the high court said, on complaints of shortage of remdesivir injections for COVID-19 patients.
"We are told there is adequate supply of Remdesivir in Gujarat. Do not follow only what you have been briefed, you are an officer of the Court first", CJ Nath said to AG Trivedi
It now takes "almost five days" for a person to get the RT-PCR test result, the court noted. "You did not upscale the testing facilities when you had time," the bench said.
"Government stopped designating hospitals as COVID hospitals, unaware of the second and third waves happening worldwide.You cannot admit all COVID positive patients in hospitals, because there are no beds. I have been told that patients have been refused admission if even the hospital has beds", CJ Nath said.
The CJI's companion judge Justice Karia observed "Remdesivir should be as easily available as paracetamol".
The bench said that State must take action against those hoarding Remdesivir drug.
The Court suggested that the State should put a complete ban on all public gatherings and functions except marriages and funerals.
The Gujarat high court had on Sunday initiated a suo motu PIL over the coronavirus situation in the state, observing that media reports on the pandemic indicate that the state was heading towards a "health emergency of sorts".
The Advocate General said that government was doing its best and blamed the people for not taking adequate care.
"The fight is between COVID and the people at large and the Government has been trying its best, however, the people too should be responsible. People shouldn't store the Remdesivir injection", the AG said.
The AG also said that the State has adequate oxygen supply. The AG further said that lockdown cannot be a solution as it will affect the livelihood of many, including migrants.
"The state of Gujarat is doing all that it can. Many other states are far worse off than Gujarat, for example, Delhi. In Uttar Pradesh, there is a massive shortage of Remdesivir injections but it isn't the case here", the AG said.
The top law officer of the State Government put blame on the press by saying that it was not publishing reports responsibly.
The bench has directed the AG to place on record his affidavit by April 14. The case will be considered next on April 15.
In the order passed by the bench on Sunday to take suo moto cognizance, it referred to "harrowing tales" in newspaper reports about difficulties faced by people.
"The newspapers, news channels are flooded with the harrowing tales, unfortunate and unimaginable difficulties, unmanageable conditions of the infrastructure, the shortfall and the deficit of not only testing, availability of beds, ICU, but also the supply of Oxygen and the basic medicines like Ramdesivir, etc", the bench had observed in the order.
The Chief Justice led bench further stated that had it been stray news here and there, it could have ignored it, but the volume of the report in the leading newspapers having nationwide circulation cannot be ignored.
Referring to the Indian Express and Times of India reports, the Court had noted,
"A bare perusal of the same would indicate that the State is heading towards a health emergency of sorts."