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Don't Politicize COVID-19 Crisis; Simply Highlighting Flaws Of State Will Only Create Fear In Minds Of People : Gujarat HC

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
31 May 2020 9:40 AM GMT
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COVID 19 crisis is a humanitarian crisis, not a political crisis, the Court said.

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Merely criticizing the government in power is not going to magically cure people of COVID 19, nor is it going to to make the dead come back to life, observed the High Court of Gujarat.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J B Pardiwala also said that the COVID-19 crisis should not be politicized.

The Court made these observations after passing a slew of directions for improvement of conditions in Ahmedabad Civil Hospital. The Court also directed that COVID-19 testing should be done immediately, without waiting for the approval from the government authorities.

In parting, the Court made observations against politicizing the issue, and said that in times of crisis "we need to bind, not bicker".

"The COVID 19 crisis is a humanitarian crisis, not a political crisis. Hence, it is imperative that no one politicise this issue. The uncertainty about COVID­19 and its impact on our economy makes it even more important that the government does the right thing in terms of its policies", the Court said.

As regards the role of opposition, the Court observed :

"In these extraordinary circumstances, the role of the opposition is equally important. There is no denying that the role of the opposition is to hold the government to account, but in times like this a helping hand would be more beneficial than a critical tongue".

"By politicising this issue one would in fact be downplaying the widespread suffering it has caused and further would be placing politics and political intent before the aim of helping and saving lives".

The Court said that while adversarial criticism may do no good, constructive criticism can help.

"Simply highlighting the flaws and gaps in the State's handling of the situation only creates fear in the minds of people. People are least concerned about political ideologies and rivalries when their lives are at stake".

The bench made these observations in the context of the earlier orders of the Court against the conditions in Ahmedabad Civil Hospital putting the State Government in a spot.

The Court expressed anguish over "the unnecessary debates and comments that are going on as on date on the social media and other platforms".

"We have gathered an impression that our orders passed time to time in the larger interest of the public are being misused for some oblique motive", the bench observed.

On May 22, different bench composition of Justices J B Pardiwala and Ilesh J Vora had come down heavily on the health department for the conditions in Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, which were termed "pathetic" and "as good as a dungeon" by the bench.

Expressing alarm over the high mortality rate of COVID-19 patients there, the Court asked if the State Government was aware that the lack of adequate number of ventilators was causing it. The bench constituted a committee to examine the conditions of the hospital and directed the Government to have an an independent inquiry into the contents of an anonymous letter stated to have been sent be a Resident Doctor of the Civil Hospital, highlighting the shortcomings there.

Later, the State Govt filed application to recall the scathing observations against Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, stating that they will shake the confidence of common man in the hospital, and will demoralize the medical staff. Claiming that the steps have been taken to improve the conditions in the hospital, the Government urged the Court to "make few suitable observation so as to inspire confidence in the mind of a common man".

On May 25, the same bench headed by J Pardiwala considered the matter. While taking note of measures taken by the Govt, the Court said that it was too early to give certificate as regards civil hospital. The bench also added that it may even do surprise visits at the hospital.

On May 29, following a roster change, the case was listed before a different bench composition of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J B Pardiwala.

The bench on Friday clarified that it was only attempting to remind the State of its constitutional duties and observed that the State has taken the matter seriously.

"Ordinarily, the High Court would not interfere with the functioning of the State Government. The Court steps in by mandamus when the State fails to perform its duty. The true test of an efficient Government can be determined from its performance in times like the present one.

In difficult times, it is expected of any Government to rise to the occasion and protect its citizens. This litigation is in Public Interest. Whatever we are doing as on date is for the welfare of the people at large. All that we are doing is to remind the State Government of its constitutional obligations and the directive policies of the State. In such circumstances, we expect the State Government to accept our orders passed in the Public Interest in the right spirit bearing in mind the paramount consideration of the health and well being of the people as imperatively implicit in the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

All good work that the Government would do will surely be appreciated and hailed. If we find any remiss, negligence or carelessness, we shall come down heavily. In the first place, why should the State Government invite any criticism from the Court. The Government knows its obligations towards its citizens very well and should be efficient in discharging its duties. We would like to observe that the State Government has taken up this litigation in Public Interest very seriously. All that is now required is to remain vigilant, careful and active". 

The bench added :

"If the State Government would not have been doing anything, as alleged, then probably, by now, we all would have been dead. All that we are doing in this litigation is to keep the State Government conscious and active by reminding its constitutional and statutory obligations"

As regards Civil Hospital, the Court said the necessary medical protocols must be strictly adhered to, and passed the following directions :

[1] There should be no shortage of manpower in all categories: specialists, doctors, nurses, servants, technicians, physiotherapists etc;

[2] The patients admitted in the COVID Hospitals are demanding attention and care in terms of the medical care protocols required for proper treatment. There are different medical protocols for different categories of patients. There could be severely symptomatic patients, there could be moderately symptomatic patients and there could be mild symptomatic patients and for each of the categories of such patients, the protocols to be followed are different. It is alleged that the medical protocols required for different categories of patients are not being strictly followed.

[3] There is another circumstance which relates to the COVID patients. No Attendants are allowed to assist and take care of the patients. Normally admitted non ­COVID patients are allowed one attendant who takes care of their hygiene, their food, their daily necessities. However, for COVID patients, such care is to be taken by the Nurses, attendants and other staff of the hospitals.

[4] Although not confirmed, but, there are reports both in the print and digital medias that the COVID patients have lost their lives on account of proper care and attention not being provided to them. It has also come to our knowledge on account of dehydration and other negligence, COVID patients have lost their lives.

[5] There are also reports that necessary precaution are not being taken for the attending doctors and staff in terms of providing essential protective gadgets, consumables, PPE kits, etc. They cannot be put to risk under any circumstances. 

The Court reminded that "it would still like to keep a close watch of the functioning of the Civil Hospital" and added "if we are not satisfied with the same, then we may have to take some further steps in accordance with law".

Reports about other directions passed by the Court in the same order may be read below

 Private Doctors Need Not Await Govt Approval For COVID-19 Tests On Categories Of Patients Mentioned In ICMR Guidelines : Gujarat HC [Read Order]

 Gujarat HC Asks ICMR To Explain Rationale Behind COVID-19 Testing Policy [Read Order]

Private Hospitals Exploiting COVID-19 Crisis For Profiteering Will Face Strict Legal Action, Warns Gujarat HC [Read Order]


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