A Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah has taken suo moto cognisance and expressed shock at a horrific incident of fire that killed five and injured six patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a Rajkot hospital. The incident took place in the early hours of November 27 at the Uday Shivanand Hospital, a designated covid care facility. They have sought a response from the Centre and the Gujarat Government.
The Bench gave the directions in the suo moto case titled, In Re: Proper Treatment of COVID-19 Patients and Dignified Handling of Dead Bodies in the Hospitals, etc.
The Bench said, “This is shocking! And let me say this is not the first incident. The Court takes suo motu cognisance of the incident that happened today where 6 persons in Rajkot died due to fire in a covid designated hospital, not the first incident. These incidents are repeated and we notice that no complete steps are being taken by states nor is there any mechanism to abrogate the situation.”
The Court said that though there are guidelines and reports from time to time, the same are not implemented by States and the inspection of electrical lines is lax leading to such frequent short circuits and accidents.
Justice Shah said, “This is not done. This is happening in different hospitals. There needs to be inspection whether electrical lines are proper or not. How does this short circuit happen? Report given to the High Court with respect to fire safety is shocking! You don’t have the chief officer.”
Justice Reddy weighed in observing that the guidelines issued by the Central government are hardly followed by States. He said, “In many cases there are no fire extinguishers. In most of the cases there is an electrical line default.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta apprised the court that a report will be submitted by the Government by the next date of hearing. The court noted, “The SG submits that he is aware of the incident and he will ensure that steps are taken by tomorrow and that he will inform the court regarding steps taken on the next date. We also direct the Counsel of Gujarat to submit a report by Tuesday when the matter is taken up next.”
The court stringently noted that this is not the first incident and no legitimate measures were being taken by the authorities to mitigate and prevent these fires in hospitals.
Further, Justice Ashok Bhushan wondered whether the Chief Fire Officer must be consulted. “You must consult with the Chief Fire Officer, Mr. MF Dastoor”, said Justice Bhushan. The SG replied that they would form a committee to look into the incident. Not very thrilled with the idea, Justice Bhushan said, “We do not want a committee, we want proper steps to be taken.”
The Central Government was ordered to submit a report regarding the steps taken to avoid fire hazards and the Gujarat government has been directed to submit a report on the Rajkot fire accident by December 1, 2020.
Shrey Hospital Fire
In a similar case, a massive fire had broken out in Ahmedabad’s Shrey Hospital on August 6, 2020 killing eight Covid patients in the ICU ward. A month after the horrific tragedy, it was revealed that the mobile phones of the victims were allegedly taken away by the Hospital staff.
Human Rights Advocate Suhel Tirmizi, whose wife Ayesha perished in the fire, had a curious experience where his wife’s phone appeared to have remained intact, hours after the fire. He told SabrangIndia, “I had sent her a video message at 5:30 A.M. and it showed that it was delivered. Now if the victims died of 80 percent burns, how did their phones not get damaged?”
Rajesh Shah, the son of the deceased Lilavatiben Shah also spoke to SabrangIndia and said, “The investigation has not been proper and we are still waiting for answers. This incident has taken a heavy emotional toll on the entire family.”
On September 15, around 300 activists, citizens, family members of the victims issued a statement in solidarity and demanded for the investigation to be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as the CCTV cameras did not record anything of significance on the night of the fire and that mobile phones of victims went missing mysteriously.
The statement also pointed out failure to book the accused under proper sections of the law, saying, “For a fire of this nature, which took the lives of 8 helpless patients, which is likely to have occurred due to wilful negligence of fire safety rules and procedures, the charges should have been far more stringent.” They further demanded, “We feel that section 304 of the CrPC should have been invoked, and the failure of the police not to have done so raise(s) serious questions regarding their intent to do a free and fair investigation. There seems to be a conspiracy to get the hospital management off the hook.”