The Delhi High Court slammed the Arvind Kejriwal government again on Thursday, saying that the existing medical infrastructure in the National Capital was "exposed" and in "shambles" when put to the test during the pandemic and directed it to provide facility for medical treatment as required by all residents of the state who are suffering from COVID-19.
"Now you are behaving like the ostrich with its head in the sand. When you defend this situation, then you are not rising above the politics. We always call a spade a spade," a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said to senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government when he argued that the court may not say the medical infrastructure was in shambles.
The bench, which has been hearing a bunch of petitions on COVID-19-related shortages in the National Capital for weeks, also said there was an "urgent" need to create awareness among the general public regarding the indications of COVID-19 infection.
Meanwhile, another bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh sought response of the Centre and Delhi government on a plea alleging that the number of ICU and non-ICU beds in two dedicated COVID hospitals were slashed by more than half due to oxygen shortage and seeking directions to restore the bed capacity in them.
'Don't be like an ostrich with head in Sand'
Hearing a 53-year-old COVID-19 patient's plea for an ICU bed with a ventilator as his SPO2 (oxygen saturation) levels had fallen to around 40 and he was unable to get ICU beds anywhere, the bench said, "the existing medical infrastructure in the state is completely exposed... when it was put to the test and this court cannot turn away people like the petitioner by merely telling him that the state does not have the infrastructure to deal with his situation..."
To this Mehra said, "The existing infrastructure is struggling, but the court may not say it is in shambles as that has a different connotation to it. In the absence of oxygen, what could the infrastructure do? Hospitals were reducing beds due to lack of oxygen."
He said the government has taken several initiatives, like augmenting beds by 15,000 and ICU beds by 1,200, which are in the pipeline and the oxygen is also coming in.
However, the bench said, "No that is not right. It is not just oxygen. Is oxygen enough? If you have oxygen, do you have everything? Pipeline is pipeline. They are not there now".
The court said that it was the obligation of the state to provide sufficient infrastructure to protect the lives of the people and the same cannot be understated.
"At the same time, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are faced with a one in a century pandemic and even the most economically advanced countries found their infrastructure lacking to deal with the massive surge of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalisation," the bench said.
Referring to the relief sought in the instant plea, the bench said it was sworn to protect the fundamental rights of the people and therefore, "We are bound to issue a writ to the state to provide the infrastructure to enable the petitioner to undergo the treatment required to save his life..."
"At the same time we cannot lose sight of the fact that thousands of others are afflicted by the same disease in the city and whose condition may be as bad as that of the petitioner, if not worse," it added.
The court said that just because the petitioner was able to approach the court cannot be a reason to pass an order in his favour so that he can steal a march over others who may not have had the same option.
"We, therefore, dispose of the petition with a direction to the respondent (Delhi govt) in rem that they shall provide facility for medical treatment as may be required by all the residents of Delhi who are suffering from COVID-19.
"In case they require hospitalisation, it shall be provided. If medicines, it shall be provided. If oxygen, it shall be provided. If ICU with or without a ventilator, the state would be obligated to provide that too," the bench said.
The court, however, made it clear that merely because it passed the order in the instant petition, it does not mean the petitioner can claim preferential treatment. The bench said the order would also benefit all those similarly situated as the petitioner.
Delhi HC issues notice to Centre, state govt over shortage of beds, staff in COVID hospitals
The bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh issued notice to the Union Health Ministry, Delhi government and the two dedicated COVID hospitals " Guru Teg Bahadur and Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality " seeking their stand on a petition by an NGO claiming that ICU and non-ICU beds in two dedicated COVID hospitals were slashed by more than half due to oxygen shortage.
The NGO, Association for Social Justice, has also sought directions from the court to restore the number of beds in the two hospitals as well as filling up of the vacant posts of doctors and other staff to reduce the shortage of medical professionals in the government hospitals in the city.
The NGO, which claims to be a group of lawyers and social activists working for the social rights of indigenous and marginalised people, has sought that the vacancies can be filled up on an ad-hoc basis presently in view of the urgent requirement of medical professionals during the prevailing pandemic.
It has also sought direction to the Centre and Delhi government to set up a committee to monitor the urgent requirements of the healthcare services in the National Capital and to coordinate between the two governments.
'Urgent need to make public aware about all aspects of COVID-19'
Hearing another plea, the Bench of Justices Sanghi and Palli said there was an "urgent" need to create awareness among the general public regarding the indications of COVID-19 infection and also put in place resources to address their concerns or queries regarding the disease.
The bench said that first, the government has to find out who all " doctors, medical and nursing students " are available to handle the concerns of the general public when they call in regarding symptoms or other indications of the infection.
The court said that the data of the person available has to be collected first.
When the government said a mechanism will be put in place to create awareness among the people and address their concerns, the court responded "you have not even started the process, when will you put it in place".
"Start with something. Do not delay it. You said you were to start with some appeal or advertisement soon," the bench said to which the Delhi government responded that "it is coming. Some things had to be added (to the advertisement). It will be out soon".
On the issue of roping in retired doctors, medical students and nursing students, the court said that the government has to first collect data with regard to who all are available.
"It is urgent. People need to be made aware of all the aspects and triggers of the disease," the bench said.
'Officials sitting at home should be assigned some duty'
During the hearing, when the court was apprised that data regarding beds in the Delhi Corona app or website were not accurate as the numbers were not being updated in real-time, the court directed the state government to use its entire potential or force, including forest officers and clerks, and not just depend upon a few IAS and DANIPS officers to deal with the issues grappling the National Capital.
"Instead of just depending on your IAS and DANIPS officers, you need to use your full potential, the force you have. You have forest officers and then at lower levels, you have UDCs, LDCs, etc.
"Just because there is a kind of lockdown in place, does not mean these people can sit at home doing nothing. That cannot be. Some of them have to come out. Maybe some of them can work from home. But some duty should be assigned to all of them," the court said.
Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government, said that he would convey the court's suggestions to the government.
The observations and suggestions by the court came after it was told by several lawyers, including the amicus curiae, that the data regarding beds in the Delhi Corona app or website were not accurate as the numbers were not being updated in real-time.
Senior advocate and amicus curiae Rajshekhar Rao told the court that when he tried to get the correct numbers over the phone from a hospital, the person attending the call did not have the real-time data.
Advocate Aditya Prasad, who has filed a petition on the various COVID related issues plaguing the city, told the bench that as the data on the app and the website are inaccurate, people are left running from hospital to hospital and on arriving there they are told no beds are vacant.
He said that there should be some government official posted at each of these hospitals, mentioned in the app and website, who can communicate the data on a real-time basis. Prasad said that if the Delhi government cannot show real-time data on the app or website, then both would serve no purpose and should be taken down. Taking note of the submissions, the bench said there should be one dedicated person in each hospital to provide real-time data about the beds and also attend queries over the phone.
The court also told the Delhi government that when it says something to the government or passes an order or makes an observation, the intention is "to set the ball rolling".
The bench said it was not an expert, but it wants the experts and officials of the government to apply their minds to the suggestions made by the court.
"That is the idea, that is the spirit. We are not telling you, do this, do that. We want you to do something," it said.
With inputs from PTI