CJ Vikram nath and Justice JB Pardiwala
CJ Vikram nath and Justice JB Pardiwala
Litigation News

Criticising the government in power is not going to magically cure COVID-19; if govt didn’t do anything, we all would be dead: Gujarat HC

Shruti Mahajan

The Gujarat High Court recently observed that criticism of the government will not help in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and called for collaborative efforts between the government and the opposition. (Gujarat High Court Suo Motu on COVID-19)

These observations from the Bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala came after another Bench headed by the latter judge had pulled up the state government over the handling of the pandemic and the health facilities at government hospitals, particularly the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital.

On May 22, the Bench of Justices Pardiwala and Ilesh J Vora had directed the state government to take a number of steps regarding health and medical facilities, migrant workers, as well as prisoners.

Upon Chief Justice Vikram Nath's return from leave, the matter was listed before a Bench comprising himself and Justice Pardiwala. This Bench took up the case for hearing on Friday, when the state government had filed its detailed status report.

The present Bench observed that the Court's previous orders were becoming the subject of debates and adverse comments against the government on social media and other platforms. The Court expressed its anguish over the same, and said that the orders had been passed in larger public interest. It also stated that its orders were being taken by the state government very seriously.

"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...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...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."

Gujarat High Court

The Court went on to highlight that the public interest litigation was meant for the benefit of the "lost and lonely" and for those who had no access to courts on account of their social backwardness. These public spirited and public interest litigations ought not to be used for a political battle, the Court said.

The crisis befallen on us is a health and humanitarian crisis, not a political one, the Court said, underscoring that the issue must not be politicised.

"Merely criticising 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... 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."
Gujarat High Court

The Court went on highlight the role of the opposition during the pandemic.

"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."

The people all face a common threat right now and simply highlighting the gaps in the efforts made by the government may further put fear in the minds of the citizenry, the Court observed. In such times, the people expect to see their leaders coming together in collaboration in a united fight against the pandemic, it added.

The Court requested everyone to be careful before commenting or debating on Court orders.

"We request one and all to be very careful from now onwards before commenting or entering into any debate with regard to Court orders that are being passed from time to time in Public Interest. Our message is loud and clear. We need not further elaborate on this issue. All those who cannot extend their helping hand in this difficult times and do anything good for the people at large have no right to criticize the functioning of the State Government. 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."
Gujarat High Court

Apart from making these observations, the Court also passed a number of directions regarding private hospitals, the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, and the testing policy.

On Private Hospitals:

The Court was informed of the various Hospitals and private hospital associations that have agreed to reduce the rate and fees by specified ratio and directed the State government to enter into written agreements with these hospitals as regards these fees reduction.

The State government is also directed to keep a watch on the private and corporate hospitals that have been directed to reserve 50% of their beds to ensure that a common person does not have to suffer.

On Testing Policy:

Owing to the criticism against the testing policy of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the Court has impleaded the body as Respondent in the PIL case and has called upon the Council to answer certain specific questions.

These points of question inter alia include:

  • the rationale behind ICMR's testing policy,

  • the manner in which private and corporate hospitals are required to get accredited,

  • guidelines of ICMR for testing through private labs

  • whether ICMR's guidelines are statutory in nature,

  • whether these guidelines are binding on the States, and

  • if a person can get tested without a prescription.

The Court has asked the State government to respond, in a report on specific questions as regards private labs, their association with the ICMR, capacity of the pathological labs in the State, among others.

On Civil Hospital:

After having pulled up the state over the condition at Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, the Court on Friday said that it would like to keep a close watch on the same. If the condition does not improve, the Bench said that it would have to take further steps in accordance with the law.

The Court, thus, said:

"We, thus, direct that all necessary medical protocols, as are laid down, for different categories of patients, should strictly be adhered to so that no life is lost because of any kind of negligence or non­attendant. We further direct that all precautionary measures are also strictly adhered to for the doctors and all other staff as observed above."

The Court directed the State to concentrate on certain main issues to maintain administration and functioning of the Civil Hospital. In this regard, the Court said:

  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. No Attendants are allowed to assist and take care of the patients. Normally admitted non­COVID 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.

On Migrant Workers:

The Court also noted that the Supreme Court has taken suo motu cognizance on the issue of migrant workers and therefore, it did not pass any orders the subject.

Read Order:

Gujarat High Court Suo Motu on COVID-19.pdf
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