Supreme Court: Concerned with the COVID-19 pandemic spreading like a wild fire despite Guidelines and SOPs in place, the 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ has said that a strict and stern action should be taken against those who are violating the Guidelines and SOPs, whoever he may be and whatever position the violator is occupying.
On 27.11.2020, the Court took suo motu cognizance of the incident which happened in Rajkot, Gujarat on 26.11.2020 resulting in death of COVID patients in the COVIDHospital. The Court also took notice of earlier incidents of fire in Covid Hospitals.
Stressing upon the right to health being a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India which includes affordable treatment, the Court said that either more provisions are to be made by the State Government and the local administration or there shall be cap on the fees charged by the private hospitals, which can be in exercise of the powers under the Disaster Management Act.
“It cannot be disputed that for whatever reasons the treatment has become costlier and costlier and it is not affordable to the common people at all. Even if one survives from COVID-19, many times financially and economically he is finished.”
Asking States to rise to the occasion, the Court said that every State must act vigilantly and to work with the Centre harmoniously.
Further, people should understand their duty and follow rules very strictly. It is the duty of every citizen to perform their fundamental duties as guaranteed under the Constitution of India.
“By not following the Guidelines/SOPs issued by the State from time to time, such as, not wearing the masks, not keeping social distances, to participate in the gatherings and the celebrations without maintaining social distances, they are ultimately not damaging themselves but they cause damage to the others also. They cannot be permitted to play with the lives of the others and they cannot be permitted to infringe the rights of other citizens, like right to health guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”
Calling for strict implementation of the SOPs and the guidelines issued from time to time, the Court reiterated the following measures:
i) More and more police personnel shall be deployed at the places where there is likelihood of gathering by the people, such as, Food Courts, Eateries, Vegetable Markets (Wholesale or Retail), sabzi Mandies, bus stations, railway stations, street vendors, etc.
ii) As far as possible, unless must, no permission shall be granted by the local administration or the Collector/DSP for celebration/gathering even during the day hours and wherever the permissions are granted, the local administration/DSP/Collector/Police In-charge of the local police station shall ensure the strict 7 compliance of the Guidelines/SOPs. There should be a mechanism to check the number of people attending such function/gathering, such as, the particulars with respect to how many persons are going to attend the celebration/gathering, timings during which the celebration/gathering is to take place etc.
iii) There shall be more and more testing and to declare the correct facts and figures. One must be transparent in number of testing and declaring the facts and figures of the persons who are Corona Positive. Otherwise, the people will be misled and they will be under impression that everything is all right and they will become negligent.
iv) Whenever directions are issued under the Disaster Management Act directing the corporate hospitals/private hospitals to keep 50% or any other percentage free municipal beds, it must be strictly complied with and there shall be constant vigilance and supervision.
v) There shall be free helpline numbers to redress the grievances of common man, when there is noncompliance of the directions by the private hospitals/corporate hospitals.
vi) Curfew on weekends/night be considered by States where it is not in place.
vii) In a micro containment zone or in an area where number of cases are on higher side, to cut the chain, they should be sealed and there should be complete lockdown so far as such areas are concerned. Such containment areas need to be sealed for few days except essential services. The same is required to break the chain of virus spread.
viii) Any decision to impose curfew and/or lockdown must be announced long in advance so that the people may know and make provisions for their livelihood, like ration etc.
ix) Another issue is a fatigue of front row health care officers, such as, Doctors, Nurses as well as workers. They are already exhausted physically and mentally due to tireless work for eight months. Some mechanism may be required to give them intermittent rest.
On the issue relating to gatherings organised by Political parties in light on upcoming elections in various States, the Court directed all the States / Union Territories to issue necessary directions to ensure compliance of guidelines for conduct of General Elections/Bye-Elections during Covid-19
The Court said that guidelines although were issued by General Election/Bye Election, can be implemented by different States with suitable modifications with reference to Elections of other organisations to ensure safety of people in general from Covid-19.
[IN RE: THE PROPER TREATMENT OF COVID 19 PATIENTS AND DIGNIFIED HANDLING OF DEAD BODIES IN THE HOSPITALS ETC., 2020 SCC OnLine SC 1036, order dated 18.12.2020]