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"No Information Available To Public": Patna HC Directs State To Ensure Public Briefing Everyday Disclosing Cogent Covid Related Information To Public

Nupur Thapliyal
17 April 2021 11:56 AM GMT
No Information Available To Public: Patna HC Directs State To Ensure Public Briefing Everyday Disclosing Cogent Covid Related Information To Public
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While observing that the people at large do not have the requisite information about availability of covid related facilities, the Patna High Court this week directed Principal Secretary of the State Health Department to bring such information in public domain through media and ensure that "at-least once every day at a fixed time, a press briefing on behalf of the Government is made...

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While observing that the people at large do not have the requisite information about availability of covid related facilities, the Patna High Court this week directed Principal Secretary of the State Health Department to bring such information in public domain through media and ensure that "at-least once every day at a fixed time, a press briefing on behalf of the Government is made disclosing facts, illustratively, the number of COVID cases, the infrastructure which are available at various places in the State to admit and treat COVID patients and other cogent information which are required to be disseminated to the general public in public interest."

A division bench comprising of Justice Chakradhari Sharan Singh and Justice Mohit Kumar Shah was dealing with a bunch of petitions filed in view of the alarming surge in covid 19 cases in the State of Bihar touching upon the issue of lack of facilities and healthcare system to meet the challenges arising out of the second covid wave.

Observing that the newspaper reports highlight the "gloomy picture" of the entire situation in the State, the Court noted that such reports raise "serious issues of immense public interest touching fundamental rights of the citizens."

"We are mindful of the fact that providing healthcare facilities and meeting challenges arising out of spike of COVID cases in the State is primarily executive function of the State and the Constitutional Courts ordinarily do not step in, in such matters. Nonetheless, the Constitutional Courts are duty bound to invoke the powers of judicial review and cannot afford to overlook palpable violation of fundamental rights of life and equality of citizens enshrined under Articles 21 and 14 respectively of the Constitution of India." The Court observed at the outset.

During the course of hearing, the Court was apprised by the Principal Secretary of State Health Department by showing the data as regards to the availability of infrastructure in various parts of the State of Bihar to take care of COVID patients at various stations up to district headquarter level.

Noting that the said data gave a "different picture altogether", the Court observed thus:

"If the said data and statistics, as presented, are taken to be correct, the number of beds available in the State of Bihar is much more than the number of patients who require admission in COVID Care Centres (CCC), Dedicated COVID Health Centres (DCHS) and Dedicated COVID Hospitals (DCH), except for Patna. Prima facie we are not satisfied with the said depiction."

In view of this, while directing the Principal Secretary, Health Department to bring the aforesaid information in public domain through media and ensure at least one public briefing by the Government everyday, the Court also took note of the issue of scarcity of oxygen in various hospitals in the State as a result of which people were rushing to procure oxygen cylinders. According to the court, the said situation was creating a "situation for black-marketing of oxygen cylinders."

The case is now listed for hearing today i.e. 17th April wherein the respondents were directed to do the following:

- To inform the Court regarding the steps taken to improve healthcare facilities, the comprehensive action plan prepared by the State government to tackle the second wave of Covid-19 and to make aware public in general about the availability of such facilities to obviate avoidable prevalence of unnecessary sense of panic among the people.

- To inform the Court about the facilities which the State Government provides for such persons who test positive but who do not have any serious symptoms for the purpose of hospitalisation.

- State Government to ensure that all Dedicated COVID Health Centres are equipped with portable X-ray machines as quickly as possible.

- State Government should also consider initiating process for acquiring CT Scan machines for Sadar Hospitals/ Dedicated COVID Health Centres in each District of the State of Bihar.

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