PIL Filed in Bombay HC Highlighting New Issues Relating to COVID-19

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A Public Interest Litigation was filed which raised many issues with relation to the COVID pandemic such as availability of drugs, oxygen supply, ventilator beds, etc.

Facts

In the order dated 19 May 2021, the State Government and the Union of India were called to place on record affidavits regarding the issue of availability of the drug Remdesivir & Tocilizumab in Pune and other rural areas, its extra-legal supply contrary to the official protocol, supply of Oxygen, preparation of a real-time dashboard which would provide realistic information about various facets in relation to the treatment of those infected by COVID-19 and also a permanent dashboard for different medical needs of the citizens. Concerns were also raised for the non-availability of ventilator beds at Satara, Solapur, Baramati, Kolhapur, and Pune. In pursuance of the said orders, the affidavits have been submitted on behalf of the State Government, Union of India, and Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). The Court then heard the below-mentioned submissions made by the learned Counsel for the Respondents. 

Submissions before the Court

In response to the rise in cases of black fungus or “mucormycosis”, Mr. Kumbhakoni the learned Advocate General made the following submissions. He stated that this disease is now being treated as a notified disease and preparations are being made to deal with the rising number of such cases. An “OnLine” portal has been made available. Initiatives have been taken for in-house manufacturing at the Haffkine Bio-Pharma Institute of the drug “Amphotericin-B” which is now in short supply.

It is expected to make 40,000 doses available by 6 June 2021. He pointed that the requirement of such a drug is about 14000 vials per day, whereas the allocation by the Central Government has been at an average of 4000 to 5000 vials per day. Mr. Anil Singh the learned Additional Solicitor General stated that the Central Government has taken initiatives to issue fresh licenses to those who intend to manufacture the said drug.

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While replying to the drug use it is submitted that between the period 11 May 2021 to 25 May 2021, the total allocation of such drug was 42690 vials for the State of Maharashtra, whereas the total supply in the entire country was about 80,000 vials for the said period. He stated that an estimated supply in the month of June 2021 would be about 2,50,000 vials. About the stock-in-hand of “Remdesivir”, it is stated that 18330 vials are presently available which is sufficient for now. Show cause notices were issued to the private parties who were said to be involved in the hoarding and black marketing of Remdesivir.

These private concerns claimed that they procured the drug inter alia from certain manufacturers whose names are set out. The Central Government filed an affidavit to place on record information from all the manufacturers of the said drug who stated that they have not supplied the said drug to any private concern and that they have supplied it strictly only to the Government agencies as per the directions of the Central Government.

With regard to oxygen supply and its consumption, Mr. Sakhare has pointed out that not only was there sufficient supply but buffer stock was also being maintained. The LPG furnace at the crematorium at Walkeshwar was also made functional. Proper infrastructure for pediatric patients is available. It is also stated that they are in the process of augmenting pediatric beds. The real-time dashboard is also updated every two hours. Mr. Kumbhakoni also stated that they are in the process of amending the Maharashtra Nursing Homes Act to implement the fire safety norms. Mr. Sarode, learned Counsel for the intervener submitted that his client Mr. Nilesh Balwantrao Ukunde is an expert in the field of fire safety measures and has made certain suggestions regarding the same

Court’s observation

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The Court believes that the authorities cannot permit an extra-legal supply of medicines and put the lives of the patients to peril if the medicine turns out to be spurious. The Court finds it appropriate that Mr. Ukunde addresses a detailed communication to the Secretary, Urban Development Department as also to the Municipal Commissioners of all the municipal corporations/councils in the State of Maharashtra, putting forth his suggestions. If considered suitable, the suggestions would be implemented. The Court permits the State Government to issue notifications and/or ordinance and implement such urgent measures, in the interest and the safety of the hospitalized patients. The Court also accepts Mr. Kumbhakoni’s instructions to appoint a committee of experts to look into the setting up of an omnibus dashboard for the medical requirements of the citizens. 

Court’s judgment

Regarding the hoarding and black marketing of Remdesivir, the Court asks the Central Government to complete the inquiry within a period of three weeks after which an appropriate order will be passed. The Court asks Mr. Kumbhakoni to obtain information from respective District Collectors and to check if all treatment facilities are available in the rural areas. The Court directs to be presented with a tabular statement on the different requirements and for the authorities to look into the non-availability of ventilator beds. The Court also directs for a Taskforce to be created as a contingency plan similar to the Paediatric Task Force already formed. The hearing of the petitions is adjourned to 2nd June 2021. 

Click here to read the Judgement


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