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'While Fighting Pandemic, Ignorance Invites Calamity' : Telangana HC Expresses Dissatisfaction With Govt Publication Of COVID-19 Data

Mehal Jain
3 July 2020 7:59 AM GMT
While Fighting Pandemic, Ignorance Invites Calamity : Telangana HC Expresses Dissatisfaction With Govt Publication Of COVID-19 Data
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"Although the Government may claim that it is doing all that it can do to contain the spread of COVID-19, but the data supplied by the Government, and the information available in the Media Bulletin, and in the press, reveal a disturbing picture", observed the Telangana High Court on Wednesday.

The Court pulled up the state, saying that for the last two months, repeatedly the court has been passing orders "hoping to bring the gravity of the situation to the notice of the state Government", and also hoping that the directions of this Court would be implemented, "but to no avail".

Taking strict stock of the situation, the division bench directed that, in case the directions issued by the Court are not implemented by the State by July 15, the Chief Secretary, Government of Telangana, the Principal Secretary, Medical, Health and Family Welfare Department, the Principal Secretary, Municipal Administration and Urban Development, and the Commissioner of GHMC will have to appear before this Court on July 27.

The bench of Chief Justice Sri Raghavendra Singh Chauhan and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy noted that despite the fact that the court had directed the state Government to increase the number of samples being tested on daily basis, the evidence is otherwise.

"The ICMR has repeatedly emphasised the need to collect the samples as widely as possible, from as large a segment of the population as possible. But, according to the Press Note, dated 25.06.2020 the Director, Public Health and Family Welfare, have decided to halt the collection of samples, and testing, for a few days", the bench admonished.

The court expressed that It is, "rather surprising" that the Director has gone against, and has violated the advisory issued by the ICMR itself. Moreover, it commented that the data collected clearly reveals that compared to the other States, Telangana is far behind in collecting the samples, and testing the same.

Therefore, what is being revealed by the State Government, that about 945 cases tested positive on 30.06.2020, "would just be the tip of the iceberg".

Besides, the bench noted that despite the fact that by its order dated 18.06.2020, this Court had directed the Government to publish the critical information on a daily basis, not only in its Media Bulletin, but more so in regional newspapers, "such direction seems to have fallen on deaf ears".

"It is only, on 17.06.2020. i.e. one day prior to the order dated 18.06.2020. that the government had incorporated the age group of the persons affected by COVID-I9. But subsequent to the passing of the said order, none of the Media Bulletins show that the relevant, and critical information is being published by the Government", noted the bench.

Moreover, it said that since in the Report furnished by the Government, not a single newspaper publication has been submitted, it is rather obvious that the critical information, which should be disseminated amongst the public is being withheld by the State Government.

"Needless to say, while fighting a battle against a pandemic, ignorance is not bliss. In fact, ignorance is an invitation to a calamity", remarked the Court.

Further, though the Court had also directed the GHMC to publish ward-wise information and to communicate the same to the Colony Associations, there is no evidence to show that even the said direction has been implemented.

Besides, there is also no evidence produced by the Government, which reveals that the Government has formulated a Containment Policy. Moreover, the Government has also stopped publishing the list of containment clusters, both City-wise and State-wise, said the bench.

Considering the present scenario, the Court issued the following directions:-

l) The State is directed to implement the directions issued by the court on 18.06.2020.

2) The State is directed to give detailed information with regard to the number of tests carried out not only on the symptomatic persons, but also on asymptomatic persons and on the contacts of the primary patients in the last 20 days. For, according to the ICMR Guidelines, a contact person needs to be tested between the fifth and the tenth day after the person comes into contact with a positive case. "However, it is unknown whether such contact persons are, indeed. being tested by the State, or not?", wondered the bench.

3) The vital information mentioned hereinabove, shall be published on a daily basis by the State, both in its Media Bulletin, and in the regional newspapers.

4) ln case, the Government were to conclude that there is disharmony between the GHMC, and the Public Health and Family Welfare Department, the State is directed to ensure that latest data is provided by the Public Health and Family Welfare Department to the GHMC. Moreover, the GHMC shall continue its valiant efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 in the GHMC area. For, the data reveals that the largest number of cases are emerging in the GHMC area. The State Government is further directed to crease out any differences between the GHMC. and the Public Health and Family Welfare Department.

5) The State is directed to submit its Containment Policy, if any, before the Court.

6) The State is directed to furnish the list of containment clusters, if such a list is being maintained by the State. In case, such a list is not being maintained, the State is directed to reveal the reasons for not maintaining such a list.

7) The State is directed to furnish the finding of the Central Team, which recently visited the State on 27.06.2020, and 28.06.2020.

8) Noting that the figures being submitted by the State before this Court are fudged in respect of certain regions, the government is directed to provide information on number of tests conducted each day in Suryapet District from 22.03.2020. till 23.06.2020 by the Medical Department; information on number of people kept in Home quarantine each day in the District in this period by the Medical Department; information on number of people sent to GovernMent Hospital for treatment. The State should also provide the number of positive patients treated, and discharged, between 22,03,2020, and 23.06.2020 in the District.

9) The State is directed to submit the affidavits of the Superintendents of the Government Hospitals with regard to the number of patients, infrastructure available, the safety equipment available, its distribution to the medical staff, on a daily basis. For, despite the fact that these affidavits were called by this Court about 45 days ago, the said affidavits still have to be produced before the Court.

10) The State is directed to explain the discrepancy in its data, mentioned above, in relation to the Suryapet District.

"This Court has passed detailed orders on 08.06.2020, and 18.06.2020. But it is, indeed, a sorry state of affairs that despite the directions of this Court, the same are not being implemented by the State. It is, certainly, hoped that the directions issued by this Court today will be implemented by the State with all sense of seriousness", said the bench.

It continued to hold that "it is, indeed, trite to state that it is the foremost duty of the Government to protect the people from a pandemic", and that "the said duty emanates both from Article 21 of the Constitution of India, and from the duties imposed on the State under Part IV of the Constitution of lndia". "Therefore, the State can neither abdicate its constitutional duties, nor abandon its own people", it asserted.

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