Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of M.S. Sonak and M.S. Jawalkar, JJ., addressed the instant PILs in the context of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic in the country and its deleterious effects in the State of Goa.
On Security Measures for the Protection of Healthcare Professionals
The Bench observed that, the situation is quite telling on the aspect of security measures for the protection of healthcare professionals in the light of statement issued by the Goa Association of Resident Doctors (GARD), which spoke of overcrowding at the hospitals, lack of sufficient oxygen, and other infrastructure necessary to treat and support the COVID-19 patients. The statement also raised the issue of disconnect between the facilities projected and the facilities actually available. Above all, it had highlighted the plight of the healthcare professionals in the particular context of their personal security and the conditions in which they are presently working.
Observing that the healthcare professionals which includes the Resident Doctors, whose cause the GARD espoused, are in the frontline, at the hospitals, at the casualty wards, and the Intensive Care Units along with the COVID patients. Therefore, the said statement could not be lightly brushed aside or completely ignored. The Bench expressed,
“Each of us owes a debt of gratitude to the healthcare professionals who have gone beyond the call of their duty and toiled day in and day out relentlessly, without any rest amidst this serious crisis. Therefore, the minimum that we collectively owe to these healthcare professionals is security.”
The Bench added that very often the stress of patients and their relatives result in physical violence against healthcare professionals. Nevertheless, “A message must go out loud and clear that there will be zero tolerance for any form of physical or verbal violence against healthcare professionals. Such violence against healthcare professionals is simply not acceptable and must be dealt with by a firm hand.”
On Covid “Negative” Certificate for Entering in the State
“We see no justification in the State of Goa not insisting upon a negativity certificate from persons who seek entry into Goa at this crucial juncture when reports indicate that the positivity rate in Goa is as high as 52%.”
Noticing that, reportedly, each day travelers by road, flight, or train entering into Goa are found to be COVID positive; the Bench stated, if this is the status of the tested cases, it is reasonable to estimate a similar or perhaps larger number of positive cases that enter in Goa.
To permit virtually unrestricted entry in such critical times is neither fair to the populace in Goa already suffering from the overstretched medical infrastructure nor to the unsuspecting tourists who have to very often avail of the overstretched facilities at a great price. The Bench remarked,
“This is not a case of sealing the borders. This is only a case where steps are taken to ensure that the persons who are entering into Goa are not already tested as COVID positive so that they do not contribute to the spread of the epidemic and at the same time are cared for better in their own State.”
In the light of above, the Bench issued detailed directions to the State Government:
- Ensure there is no violence against the healthcare professionals and such violence, if any, shall be dealt with firmly following the law. For this purpose, sufficient police personnel shall be posted round the clock at hospitals, wards, etc.
- Sufficient boards or posters must also be put up at such places to make it clear that there will be zero tolerance towards any form of violence against healthcare professionals.
- Formulate some suitable mechanisms to ensure that some testing facilities are available at the borders or entry points so the supplies of essentialities or in the ingress of essential personnel are not affected.
- Give patients and their relatives proper information as to the line of treatment or otherwise, counsel them about the health status of the patients.
- Formulate a fair and transparent hospital admission policy and, no patient shall be denied hospital admission for want of residential proof of his/her State or even in the absence identify proof.
- File an affidavit to indicate the infrastructure presently available and the efforts and timelines for augmentation of the same.
- Considering that the State of Goa has no bulk manufacturing plant and it has to rely upon the Central Government or some other sources for procuring this oxygen, the Court directed the State Administration to file an affidavit as to the need of the State and whether this need is met by the supplies made from the various sources. Affidavit to also indicate whether any steps have been taken by State Administration for having plants for the manufacture of oxygen in the State of Goa itself and the status thereof.
- The State Administration should also file an affidavit indicating the position of stocks of essential medicines available in the State of Goa and the steps taken to augment the same.
- At this stage, it is necessary that there are proper testing facilities available and further, the result of such tests are made available at the earliest. Directions were issued to file an affidavit to indicate whether any arrangements have been made to collect samples from home where the patients, for genuine reasons are unable to access testing stations.
- File an affidavit indicating the position of vaccination drive in the State, which shall also indicate whether any facilities have been provided for the marginalized section of the society, the disabled or the senior citizens, who are unable to access the vaccination centers. The affidavit to also indicate the status of the vaccination drive for the persons between 18 and 44 years.
- To make the website indicating the availability of beds in various hospitals operational. Further, this website to indicate not only the number of beds available in realtime but also the type of beds, which are available so that the patients have a clear picture as to the hospitals in which they can seek admission.
Lastly, the Bench expressed, the populace has to understand that the State is faced with an overwhelming numbers of covid-19 cases; hence, some inadequacies are quite natural. However, there has to be transparency on the part of the State and the nature and the extent of facilities available must be put out in the public domain so that there is no scope for unnecessary anxiety or rumor-mongering.
[South Goa Advocates Assn. v. State of Goa, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 694, decided on 06-05-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together
Appearance before the Court by:
For the Petitioners: Adv. Nikhil Pai
For the State of Goa: AG D.J. Pangam with Adv. Ankita Kamat,
For the Union of India: ASG P. Faldessai and SC R. Chodankar,