Delhi High Court: The Division Bench of Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli, JJ., while addressing concerns with regard to COVID-19, expressed that

“…nation is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is at times like this, that we – the people, need to stand up to showcase our best qualities and virtues, which all of us have.   To fight this scourge, we need to collectively conduct ourselves with sensitivity and empathy towards one and all – irrespective of whether the infected persons are our friends or relatives, or strangers.”

Bench while considering the prevailing COVID-19 Pandemic situation particularly in relation to the NCT of Delhi, appointed Senior Advocate Rajshekhar Rao as an Amicus Curiae to assist the Court.

Senior Advocate, Malvika Trivedi had suggested that the creation of a portal to trac the supply chain of medicines, such as Remedisivir and supply of Oxygen on real time basis could reduce the hoarding and black marketing of these products.

To examine the above-stated, Court called upon the Director, IIT as well as the NIC to send their representatives to the Court and accordingly Professor Sanjay Dhir was present and from the NIC, Mr Iqbal Hassan was present.

Delay in Discharge || Insurance Companies

One aspect that was argued was in relation to the clearance of the cases by the Third-Party Administrators (TPAs) who represented the insurance companies.

About the above-stated, Bench was informed that the time of discharge of the patient from the hospital – after the COVID treatment was over, the process of grant of No Objection Certificates (NOCs) by the TPAs was taking long time, anywhere between 5 to 8 hours resulting in delayed discharge of the patient and consequent, delay in admission of the next patient.

“…there is a long que of people who are waiting to get admitted to hospitals for proper treatment and such delays are bound to result in more suffering for the patients and their attendants.”

Hence, the Court directed all the Insurance Companies and their TPAs to ensure that the time taken to grant the NOCs is reduced so that such problems do not arrive.

Senior Advocate, Krishnan Venugopal made certain suggestions:

  • Problem: There is a large section of the medical doctors who, on account of the raging pandemic, are confined to their homes, and are not on the field to treat the COVID patients. A lot of patients developing COVID-19 symptoms do not get access to doctors for the purpose of seeking advice and the delayed start in treatment leads to complications resulting in hospitalization.

Solution: Government could invite such Doctors to volunteer to render their advice/consultation through video/teleconferencing mode by adopting ICMR protocols for the treatment of COVID19 patients. Doctors who offer their services could then be assigned calls through a centralized system.

Bench stated that the above suggestion was worth consideration, hence Centre and GNCTD were directed to examine the same.

  • Another suggestion was that under Regulation 301 of Defence Service Regulation, Regulations for the Army, there is provision for rending services by the Armed Forces in aid of civil authorities in aid of maintenance of essential services and similar Regulation exists in respect of Air Force and Navy.

Solution: To this, he submitted that if a request was received from any State Government, with approval of the Central Government, such services could be provided. Adding to this, it was stated that armed forces could set up field hospitals in terms of the said rules looking to a large number of COVID Patients in NCT of Delhi.

Court stated that let GNCTD examine the said aspect.

  • Usage of ambulances. Ambulances at present are not being used only for the purpose of faring patients from their homes to hospitals. Many of them re-engaged in transporting the dead bodies to the cremation grounds and burial grounds and looking at the large numbers, they have to wait in queue.

GNCTD should consider the usage of old DTC buses instead, for transporting the dead bodies in ambulances, so that the ambulances could be made available for faring the patients to the hospitals.

Bench stated that GNCTD to consider the stated suggestion.

Court taking the Orders passed by the GNCTD on 27th and 28th April, 2021 on record and directed that the same be implemented forthwith.

Streamlining of Supply Chain

Bench further noted that the re-fillers have assured the Court on their behalf as well as on behalf of the others, that they shall comply with the allocation orders issued by the GNCTD – both in letter and spirit.  The re-fillers also made suggestions for consideration, so as to streamline the supply chain.

Naresh Gupta representing Paramount Cryogases and Salasar Gases suggested that some of the re-fillers could be given the responsibility of supplying to the hospitals. To this Mr Mehra submitted that the suggestions by re-fillers will be considered.

Court stated for the above stated that in the meantime, the GNCTD shall continue to supply Oxygen cylinders to individual consumers who require the same, as they have been doing till now.

Bench remarked that, we have to shun selfishness, greed and indifference.

 Court appealed to the good sense of the people, including the sellers of necessary medicines and Oxygen, to not to resort to hoarding of, and black marketing of Oxygen cylinders, Oxygen flow metres or medicines, and to make them available to the needy people.

Hoarding of medicines or Oxygen cylinders/ flow metres leads to artificial scarcity, to an extent which may not be there.

 High Court also noted an incident which took place at Apollo Hospital, where the hospital staff and doctors were assaulted by the relatives of one of the patients.

For the above stated, Bench remarked:

Such like incidents are bound to de- moralise the medical community, which is serving tirelessly to save the lives of the people without any rest or break whatsoever, at personal risk.

 Court directed the authorities, including the Police to be mindful of such like situation, and be vigilant to prevent any such untoward incidents.

Senior Advocate, Tushar Rao made a suggestion that the mohalla clinics set up by the GNCTD could also be used for the purpose of providing immediate consultation treatment to the patients and also for the purpose of collection of samples for testing.

With regard to the above suggestion, Court stated that GNCTD should examine the said proposal and also place the status report regarding the number of RT-PCR Tests conducted in the NCT of Delhi by the accredited labs in last 7 days along with the testing capacity of these accredited labs. The reasons for the fall in the numbers of tests conducted by them should also be disclosed in the report.

Mr Mehra has submitted that there have been occasions when SOS calls have been received for supply of medical Oxygen by hospitals and nursing homes, and upon visit, it has been found that the urgency expressed was not genuine.

Bench hoped and appealed to all the hospitals and nursing homes, to not raise false alarms as it puts unnecessary strain on the system which is already under tremendous stress.

Since the medical oxygen that has been allocated for NCT of Delhi has not been received in full quantity, Court requested the amicus to study the said allocation order issued by the Union of India and he has any suggestions, so as to optimise the tanker usage and minimise the turn around time, he may communicate the same to Mr Tushar Mehta, the Solicitor General, since he has very graciously offered to have the same examined.

“…we hope and expect that the Central Government to look at the logistics problem being faced in transportation of Oxygen from the said plants to NCT of Delhi.”

 [Bhavreen Kandhari v. GNCTD, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 1829, decided on 28-04-2021]

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