Patna High Court: The Division Bench comprising of Sanjay Karol, CJ., and S. Kumar, J., opined that it is the settled position of law that the right to health, including access to basic medical infrastructure, is a facet of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, which the State is duty-bound to provide. The Bench stated,
“Failure on the part of a government hospital to provide timely medical treatment to a person in need of such treatment results in a violation of his right to life guaranteed under Article 21.”
Relying on the decision of Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India, (2018) 5 SCC 1, the Bench reiterated that when it comes to interpretation of fundamental rights, the Court has to adopt a liberal, dynamic, extensive and interpretative approach and needless to add the right to life has to be with dignity is a settled principles of law. Reliance was also placed by the Court on the decision of Supreme Court in Union of India v. Mool Chand Kharaiti Ram Trust, (2018) 8 SCC 321,wherein it had been reiterated that the constitutional duty to develop “humanism” as envisaged under Article 51-A(h) applicable to the medical profession.
The counsel for one of the petitioners, Mr. Dinu Kumar informed the Court that the Medical Institutions, specified to deal with Covid-19, are lacking in infrastructure. Illustratively, he mentions that C.T. Scan Machines are either not installed or not fully functional/operational, be it for whatever reason.
Since the onset of the first wave of current Pandemic, the Court had been monitoring the position within the State. The Bench opined that the biggest challenge before the Government is to change the mindset of the people of Bihar and break the myth amongst the local populace that- “Bihar Corona ko Khaa Gaya Hai.” The various directions issued, policies framed and programmes propagated by the Central Government and the State Government under the provisions of Disaster Management Act, 2005 and Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, needs to be highlighted, popularised and people need to be sensitised, both in the urban and rural areas by all modes of communications, including electronic and print media. The Bench suggested,
“On a personal level Persons engaged in pursuing social beneficially schemes, can be asked to sensitize the general public in adhering the advisories issued, at least of wearing masks; maintaining social distancing; avoiding congregation at public places; and taking all precautions in dealing with the problems arising out of current Pandemic Covid-19.”
Noticing that in Bihar, recovery rate improved up to 89.72%, above than the national recovery rate of 77.77 % and the death rate in Bihar was the lowest in the country. The Bench complimented the officials, who have wholeheartedly and dedicatedly devoted themselves to this battle against the corona virus. The Bench opined that as representatives of institutions and pillars of a democracy, it is the collectively responsibility of the Court to ensure that the people get help and are provided with the healthcare they need, especially in these times of great crisis. The Bench added,
“None should lose life only on account of lack of adequate medical care. We would also be amiss if, right at the outset, we do not acknowledge the excellent work carried out by our doctors and other medical staff whom we had in previous litigation termed as our ‘Guardian Angles’.”
In the attending circumstances, when the State is in a state of a medical emergency, for the State itself has imposed lockdown from 06-05-2021, the Bench opined that non-reporting of deaths by the functionaries under the Municipal Act and the Panchayat Act should also entail action for their removal on the ground of non-performance/discharge of their duties. Hence,
“The public representatives must engage themselves at the grass-root level, for they are pretty familiar with the geography, demography and topography of their respective jurisdiction. to ensure that all deaths taking place within their respective jurisdictions, are immediately reported and certainly not later than 24 hours.”
The Bench emphasized that in case of violation to report the deaths within 24 hrs, the Court would make sure to remove the official responsible for negligence from the service. With regard to the issue of hoarding/black-marketing of the medical equipment, including oxygen cylinder, the Bench directed the state to take necessary actions against the same.
Directions by the Court
In the above backdrop, the Bench issued following directions:
- The government hospitals are duty-bound to extend medical assistance for preserving human life. Failure on the part of even private hospitals to provide timely medical treatment to a person in need of such treatment results in a violation of his right to life guaranteed under Article 21.
- The public representatives as also the functionaries of the State under the Registration Act, Municipal Act and the Panchayat Act shall take all steps ensuring implementation of the Government policies, including immediate registration of deaths, more so in the rural areas of Bihar.
- All deaths must be reported within 24 hours. A true picture is essential for taking effective steps in defeating this pandemic Covid-19.
- The State need to shift the focus to the rural areas so as to ensure that none is deprived of the medical health infrastructure in connection with pandemic Covid-19.
- Government of India shall favourably consider the request seeking enhancement of the quota of oxygen cylinders and oxygen (LMO) within four days.
- Municipal authorities are directed to take steps for proper collection, treatment and disposal of waste generated from COVID patients in home isolation.
- The process of procuring C.T. Scan equipment is directed to be expedited.
- Government of Bihar shall file a fresh affidavit, furnishing complete information in a format (tabular chart) prepared by all the learned counsel in terms of our direction within next four working days.
- Fresh data be furnished to this Court, with respect to RTPCR, positivity rate and death etc., making clear the geographical locations, Urban and Rural designations and also, the number of (a) Covid Care Centres (CCC); (b) Dedicated Covid Health Centres (DCHC); (c) Dedicated Health Centre (DHC) or for that matter the private hospitals in each one of the districts.
[Shivani Kaushik v. Union of India, Civil Writ Jurisdiction Case No. 353 of 2021, order dated 13-05-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together
Advocates before the Court:
For the Petitioner/s: Shivani Kaushik (In Person)
For the UOI: Dr K.N. Singh (ASG)
For the State: Anjani Kumar, AAG-4
For the Respondent 5: Mrs Binita Singh
For Respondent 6: Shivender Kishore,
For PMC: Prasoon Sinha
For DMCH : Mr. Bindhyachal Rai, Advocate
For GMC : Mr. Rabindra Kr. Priyadarshi ,
For the Intervener : Mr. Rajiv Kumar Singh, Advocate