Delhi High Court: The Division Bench of Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli, JJ., while addressing the present petition expressed that:
COVID-19 pandemic is presently raging with much greater intensity than prevalent at the time when this petition was initiated in the year 2020.
It has been noted that the number of COVID-19 positive patients, as reported on a daily basis has exceeded 25,000 in the NCT of Delhi.
Court observed that the test positivity rates (TPR) are rising continually, with around 1/3rd of all districts in the country having a positivity rate of more than 10%. The TPR was more than 13% as on 15.04.2021. According to medical estimates, around 15 to 20% of these patients could require hospital admissions, with a quarter of them requiring specialized ICU care.
Above position translates to a requirement of roughly 50,000 beds daily in the country, which has already pushed the limited health care system beyond its limits.
It is evident that the health care infrastructure is on the verge of an imminent and complete collapse.
It was stated that GNCTD is being unreasonable and unmindful of the limitations of men, infrastructure and equipment available to deal with the massive surge in COVID-19 positive cases.
Bench observed that because of the large numbers of samples, labs that have been entrusted with the job of collecting and analyzing samples of COVID-19 through RT PCR Tests are already hard pressed. Court stated that it does not serve the interest of any such lab to delay the reports deliberately or negligently.
Hence, Court added that it hopes and expects:
- all the labs to continue to work efficiently and diligently in order to prepare and provide the reports of the tests conducted by them at the earliest humanly possible.
- None of the accredited labs would refuse to take samples on account of the rush, if they are otherwise in a position to collect the samples.
Another issue before the Court was with respect to the shortage of supply of medical oxygen which is a critical requirement for treatment of serious patients of COVID-19. Mr Mehra pointed that the Central Government had already issued orders that, except to meet the needs of a few industries, the supply of oxygen manufactured in the country should be provided for medical use in the country.
He further added that:
“…shortage of oxygen may result in steep rise in loss of lives.”
Bench stated that let Central Government look into the above matter on an urgent basis.
It was submitted that M/s INOX, which has existing contracts with hospitals in Delhi, is diverting the oxygen produced by it to other states.
To the above issue, High Court directed INOX to honour its contracts with the GNCTD and hospitals in Delhi and restore the supply of 140 MT of oxygen immediately – which shall, in turn, be distributed to the needy hospitals of Delhi.
Central Government should examine the availability of oxygen in different states in the country in the context of the spread of the pandemic so that oxygen could be made available to the areas where it is most required, looking at the surge in covid cases.
High Court directed Centre and GNCTD to file affidavits disclosing – in respect of hospitals manages by them, hospital-wise, the number of COVID beds reserved, further how many ICU Beds with or without ventilator and with or without oxygen supply.
Affidavits should also state as to how many COVID beds have been allocated by the Central Government to GNCTD in ICU/non-ICU and with/ without ventilators, and with, or without, oxygen.
Another aspect which the Court highlighted was the plight of daily wagers and migrant labour force as was seen in the year 2020 on imposition of lockdown. It has been noted that a lot of them have started going back to their origin states with the surge in COVID cases in the GNCTD.
“…daily wagers – who are hand to mouth, and earn their bread everyday to feed themselves and their families, are once again faced with the grim reality of facing shortage of even basic necessities such as food, clothing and medication, due to the curfew imposed till 26th April, 2021.”
Bench remarked that:
GNCTD failed to utilize thousands of crores of rupees they are sitting on, which is available with the Board constituted under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, and which has been collected as Building cess for construction workers. The registration of lakhs of building workers – which had lapsed on account of non-renewal, were not provided any ex gratia payment.
GNCTD to ensure that the above stated Board shall utilize the monies lying with it, inter alia, to provide food, medicines and other necessities to the needy construction workers at their respective work sites.
Provision of Food
Lastly, the Court held that for the purpose of providing food, the GNCTD should utilise the contractors engaged for providing mid-day meals to school children in Government and MCD Schools, since the schools are not operational currently, and that facility could still be utilized for the aforesaid purpose. The Chief Secretary, Delhi shall ensure the implementation of this direction without any delay.
Matter shall be taken up today post-lunch session. [Rakesh Malhotra v. GNCTD, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 1800, decided on 19-04-2021]
Advocates before the Court:
For the Respondents:
Mr Satyakam, ASC, for the GNCTD/ respondent Nos. 1 & 2.
Mr Rahul Mehra, Standing Counsel (Crl.) for GNCTD.
Ms Monica Arora, Adv. for Mr Chetan Sharma, ASG