The Supreme Court Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and M.R. Shah has issued a set of guidelines for the States over hospital fire incidents and containment of the virus in Re: The Proper Treatment of Covid 19 Patients and Dignified Handling of Dead Bodies In The Hospitals Etc. (W.P [C] No. 7 of 2020)
On November 27, the top court had taken suo motu cognisance of the Rajkot Hospital fire in Gujarat resulting in death of Covid patients. The Court had also taken notice of earlier incidents of fire in Covid Hospitals. The Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta and the State of Gujarat were directed to take immediate action and submit reports.
Guidelines to curb fire accidents
The Bench directed:
1. “All States/Union Territories should appoint one nodal officer for each Covid hospital, if not already appointed, who shall be made responsible for ensuring the compliance of all fire safety measures.
2. In each District, the State Government should constitute a committee to carry out fire audit of each Covid hospital at least once in a month and inform the deficiency to the management of the hospital and report to the Government for taking follow up action.
3. The Covid hospital who have not obtained NOC from the fire department of the State should be asked to immediately apply for NOC and after carrying necessary inspection, decision shall be taken. Those Covid hospitals who have not renewed their NOC should immediately take steps for renewal on which appropriate inspection be taken and decision be taken. In event, Covid Hospital is found not having NOC or not having obtained renewal, appropriate action be taken by the State.”
In addition to this, the top court also directed the State of Gujarat to extend support and cooperate with the inquiry commission under Justice D.A Mehta with regard to fire in Shrey Hospital, Navrangpura, Ahmedabad, and enquiry in to the incident of fire in Uday Shivananda Hospital, Rajkot. This was ordered to fast track the submission of the inquiry report for the State to take appropriate remedial action.
Right to Health
The Bench noted that affordable treatment is inclusive of Right to Health and the State must ensure the same. “Right to health is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Right to health includes affordable treatment. Therefore, it is the duty upon the State to make provisions for affordable treatment and more and more provisions in the hospitals to be run by the State and/or local administration are made”, said the Bench.
Bringing private hospitals under the scanner, the court observed that albeit a patient manages to afford the treatment, it is financially draining as access to medical facilities are getting costlier. It said, “Even if one survives from Covid-19, many times financially and economically he is finished. Therefore, either more and more provisions are to be made by the State Government and the local administration or there shall be a cap on the fees charged by the private hospitals, which can be in exercise of the powers under the Disaster Management Act.”
The court said that despite guidelines and standard operating procedures in place, “for lack of implementation the Pandemic has spread like wildfire. A strict and stern action should be taken against those who are violating the Guidelines and SOPs, whoever he may be and whatever position the violator is occupying.”
All states have been directed to increase vigilance and harmoniously work with the Centre to win the “world war against Covid-19”.
Guidelines to contain Covid-19
The court also placed some burden on the citizens of India to act responsibly and to follow guidelines as “they are ultimately not damaging themselves but causing damage to others also.” The court strictly said, “They cannot be permitted to play with the lives of others and they cannot be permitted to infringe the rights of other citizens, like the right to health guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”
The Bench acknowledged that there is a need to help and guide people to implement the guidelines and the SOPs issued by the Government, either the Union or the State, such as, wearing of masks, maintaining social distancing etc. As courts have already issued comprehensive directions to contain the spread of the virus, this 3 Judge Bench reiterated the State to issue the same necessary directions.
In terms of Covid testing, the courts have directed States to conduct “more and more” tests. They also said: “One must be transparent in the number of testing and declaring the facts and figures of the persons who are Corona Positive. Otherwise, the people will be misled and they will be under the impression that everything is alright and they will become negligent.”
“More and more police personnel shall be deployed at the places where there is likelihood of gathering by the people, such as, Food Courts, Eateries, Vegetable Markets (Wholesale or Retail), sabzi Mandis, bus stations, railway stations, street vendors, etc.”, it added.
With regard to lockdowns/curfews, the Bench directed the State to announce long in advance so that all residents can make provision for their livelihood, like ration etc. They have also directed the authorities to introduce some mechanism to give intermittent rest to the health care workers who are already physically and mentally exhausted.
Finally, the Supreme Court directed all States and Union Territories to issue necessary directions for compliance and provided them with four weeks’ time to file affidavits in this regard.
The matter is now expected to be heard in January, 2021.
The order may be read here: