A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court directed the States to ensure the availability of ambulance to COVID and non-COVID patients. The Court also directed them to ensure proper pricing of the same.
Brief Facts of the Case
The plea was filed by the NGO, Earth. They sought the intervention of the Court to demand more ambulances for the transportation of patients in light of the pandemic.
They referred to Section 63 and 65 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. They asked the Court to issue directions to the Governments of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Delhi to use their powers to provide more ambulances.
They have also prayed for directions to improve the efficiency of the services. The Plea highlighted a surge in the number of COVID-19 patients and difficulties faced by non-COVID-19 patients too. Additionally, they also sought fixation of rates chargeable for using the services along with advisories on the use of PPEs, etc.
The Plea also referred to innovative solutions adopted by some State governments to deal with the issue at hand. For instance, the Haryana Government collaborated with Ola to enable emergency medical trips.
The Petitioner’s Counsel brought the attention of the Court to the acute shortage of ambulances country-wide. It also mentioned the mismanagement of the services.
The Plea emphasized the need to plan a centralized mechanism and operation centres to ensure the effective availability of this service. The Petitioner added that to achieve the said goal, there is a necessity to convert public transport vehicles into ambulances and integrate all ambulance services.
The Plea cited news reports to throw light upon the lack of this service that led to many casualties across the country. The number of ambulances available fell short, making it difficult to avail medical treatment.
Further, it added that even though there was a Standard Operation Procedure for transportation of COVID-19 positive patients, the States failed to fill in the gaps of ambulance services.
Those ambulances available charged exorbitant rates blaming it on the procurement of PPEs which is essential for every EMT.
In light of these difficulties, the Petitioner submitted that it was the need of the hour to increase the number of 108-dial ambulances in all the States. Even private vehicles should be used as ambulances. This would be for NON-COVID patients who can do with ambulances which do not have ventilators.
The Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta represented the State in this matter. He filed the counter affidavit stating that the State does not oppose the Plea since it has to be done. He added that every State should be required to follow these guidelines. The ambulances should be made available in cases of need keeping in mind the growing COVID positive cases.
The Bench observed that the India COVID’19 Emergency Response & Health System Preparedness Package had been formulated on 23rd April 2020. An SOP had also been issued on March 29, 2020, by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
In light of the same, the Court observed that every State was obligated to follow the SOP. They must take appropriate measures to augment the capacity of ambulances to make sure all those in need can avail the same.
Additionally, taking into account the submission of the Petitioner about the lack of guidelines on pricing, the Court directed the States to fix a reasonable charge and make sure that it is followed.
The Bench comprised of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Justice R. Subhash Reddy, and Justice MR Shah. Taking notice of the counter-affidavit filed by the State, the Court ordered the States to follow the SOP dated March 29. They directed the States to fix a fair charge for the availability of ambulance services and to ensure that those in need aren’t deprived of it.
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