The Gujarat High Court on 13.03.2020 registered a suo motu Public Interest Litigation. The PIL was on the ‘Precautionary Measures in the Wake of the Pandemic of Coronavirus COVID-19’ (Suo Motu v. State of Gujarat, R/WPPIL/42/2020).
On 11.05.2020, the Court took cognizance of four news items published on that date. The two-judge bench comprised of Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice Ilesh J. Vora. These items were from the Ahmedabad Mirror and The Indian Express. Herein, the Court asked the State Government to revert with its report and concrete plans on the issues. Therefore, the State presented the report before the honourable bench on 14.05.2020. On this date, other counsels, as well, filed fresh applications.
Grounds for Cognizance
While taking cognizance, the High Court referred to four newspaper articles. The divisional bench raised four issues seeking a response from the State Government. These four issues concerned:
One, it is difficult for people to avail medical services for ailments other than COVID-19. The Court referred to the article: “In pain? Grin and bear, because cops won’t allow you meet your doc.” (Ahmedabad mirror, 11th May 2020)
Two, non-distribution of food packages to the poor battling hunger. Article: “Give us food or kill us now” (Ahmedabad Mirror, 11th May 2020)
Three, steps taken to avoid long waiting hours. Additionally, to make the process of sending the migrant workers back home, efficient. Article: “Migrant workers made to wait for 19 hours in Gujarat to board train to UP” (Indian Express, 11th May 2020)
Fourth, details of the functional shelter homes. To understand the situation of Migrant Workers wanting to go home. Article: “Stop migrant workers walking home, take them to Shelters: DGP.” (Indian Express, 11th May 2020)
Response filed by the State Government
The Government filed its response addressing the four issues raised by the High Court on 14.05.2020. The reports addressed the issues raised by the court suo motu in the following manner:
It was said that the Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad issued a letter of 12.05.2020. This issuance of the said letter order will allow patients to visit the doctors. For this, the Court took note of the article. Furthermore, Private Hospitals were being instructed to run clinics and provide medical help. For the same reason, the DCPs have been holding meetings with various doctors. Additionally, the Ahmedabad City Police also launched the “NAMAN” scheme. This scheme is supposed to look after the senior citizens.
The counsel said that instructions have been already given to the field officers. They are to provide food and water to the footpath dwellers and move them to Shelter Homes. Further, they have already provided 11,000 grocery kits, 3,88,000 food kits, 11,045 water bottles, 23,000 snacks packs, to the poor. That, this is done with the help of charitable trusts and other volunteers.
The Government report pointed out that the newspaper had reported the happening of events in a false manner. All the workers had reached the Railway Station from the starting point of screening within 4 to 5 hours. While leaving, these workers were delighted. They also thanked the administration for their aid.
At present, there exist 66 Shelter Homes holding 1338 migrant workers. The State had arranged 198 Shelter Homes holding 10267 migrants at the peak on 18.04.2020. The authorities had identified these homes on two grounds:
- accommodation suitability,
- food and medical facilities
Furthermore, the strength of the homes has reduced after the arrangement of special trains. It is hence, reported, that an arrangement of 263 Special Trains for 3,33,376 migrant workers was done. The trains were for Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Madhya Pradesh origin workers. The said transportation took place from 2nd May 2020 to 13th May 2020.
Other Issues raised during the Hearing
The purpose was to hear the State Government’s response to the suo motu issues raised by the Gujarat High Court. Despite that, different litigants filed several fresh civil applications. Taking note of these preferred applications, the issues raised during the hearing were-
- Non-usage of 8000 Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation owned buses. These were for transporting migrant workers. The Court also considered the expensive tickets of Luxury buses.
- Non-utilization of the RERA funds for the well-being of construction workers.
- State Government should bear the expenses of any person desiring to go back to his native place.
- Use of community halls, marriage halls, schools for quarantine purposes. These were being used for providing shelter to migrant workers and other labourers.
- Contractors or employers should pay for the tickets of the migrant workers. Thus, those who refuse to pay should bear the legal consequences.
- Loopholes in the discharge policy of Coronavirus patients from hospitals.
- Availability of N-95 masks to the health workers and the general public.
- Opening of hair cutting salons with proper measures and caution.
- Availability of electricians and other technicians.
- Clarification about the examination of the students of Standard 10th and Standard 12th.
- The problems prevailing in the Government colony of Asarva.
- Exorbitant amounts demanded by private hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.
- Non-availability of beds at the Civil Hospital and SVP Hospital in Ahmedabad.
Order of the Court
The Court opined that the issues need due consideration by the State authorities. The Court suggested the state authorities work out a way. The way should ensure the distribution of food supplies to the needy amid lockdown. For this, the authorities can take the help of NGOs and charitable institutions to do the same.
In case the private hospitals refuse to lower their charges for treating COVID-19 patients the Court would take appropriate legal action. The consequence of such actions may also include cancellation of license of the said hospital. Moreover, the police are not supposed to restrain people suffering from other ailments. They should be allowed to reach out to hospitals or clinics of private doctors.
The Court also requested the Advocate General to file an affidavit. The affidavit should be through a responsible medical officer. In that affidavit, the court seeks information about the treatment of COVID-19 patients. The information requested is on:-
One, serum potassium level test for the patients.
Two, blood penetration resistance test for the PPE.
Three, 24×7 presence of senior Anaesthetist and critical care specialist in the ICU.
The Court expects the State Government to file its response and revert to the Court by 22.05.2020.
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