Punjab and Haryana High Court: The Division Bench of Rajan Gupta and Karamjit Sing, JJ., addressed various issues with regard to unavailability of ambulance, wastage of vaccine and inadequate medical equipments and staff etc.

Issues before the Court

The Amicus Curiae, Mr. Rupinder Khosla had highlighted before the Court the need for more ventilators in GMSH-16, Chandigarh. According to him, only six ventilators are functional at the moment and the hospital is facing difficulty in view of large number of patients pouring in for medical help. Apart from this, the issue of wastage of vaccine vials which are opened for vaccination in all the three States was also highlighted. The Amicus Curiae emphasized that such wastage needs to be avoided at all costs as the country is facing paucity of vaccine after the eligible age group has been lowered to 18 years. It was also submitted that the ambulance facilities provided by the Government are over burdened. As a result, certain private parties are providing this facility but at a higher cost, making it a business venture. Further, the issue of scarcity of para medical staff was also raised before the Court.

The AG of Punjab, Mr. Atul Nanda had highlighted that out of 82 ventilators supplied to the Punjab 71 are faulty. He further submits that Punjab needs about 4 lakh vials of Covishield vaccine immediately. Similarly, counsel for UT of Chandigarh, Mr. Pankaj Jain had made a  request that a separate quota of 5 MT of liquid oxygen be exclusively kept for PGIMER, Chandigarh as it is a premier medical institute which is catering the needs of nearby States as well, therefore, it needs to be ensured that it does not face any problem in technical and support or oxygen supply.

The ASG of India, Mr. Satya Pal Jain submitted that as regards 71 faulty ventilators to the State of Punjab, the matter would be examined immediately and necessary steps be taken for rectifying the fault at the earliest. He further submitted that sufficient number of PSA Generators had been supplied to various Government Hospitals in UT, Chandigarh which all are functional now. The request of 5 MT of oxygen for PGIMER exclusively, would also be processed expeditiously.

Analysis and Directions by the Court

As regards the wastage of available quantity of vaccination, the Bench opined that the state of Haryana needs to examine whether Rule 24 of the Haryana Services Rule (General) can be invoked. The Rule reads as under:- Every government employee shall get himself vaccinated and re-vaccinated at any time when so directed by the Government by general or special order. State of Punjab was also directed to examine whether there is any pari materia provision in the Punjab Rules as well which makes vaccination compulsory for Government employees. As regards ambulance issue, apart from Government facility, the nodal agencies in all the Districts shall monitor the ambulance facilities being provided by the private operators. They may call upon voluntary agencies, NGOs etc. for providing additional ambulances. Additionally, tele-consultancy shall be made available to general public 24×7 and services of doctors/final year medical students can also be sought.

The central government was directed to examine the possibility of providing more ventilators to GMSH-16, Chandigarh hospital. Considering the critical care PGIMER, Chandigarh is providing, keeping in view its advanced medical expertise, the Bench directed the State governments to cooperate in every respect in order to ensure that its functioning remains smooth and efficient.

Reminding that in Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity v. State of West Bengal, 1996(4) SCC 37, the Supreme Court had directed that immediate medical help is right to life and similar views had been echoed in cases Parmanand Katara v. Union of India, 1989(4) SCC 286 wherein it was directed to give priority to the health of citizens; the Bench directed all the three States to impress upon the private diagnostic centres to reasonably slash their rates for CT Scan for Covid patients.

Lastly, observing that under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) incorporated in Section 135 of the Companies Act, it is obligatory for the Companies to contribute at least 2% of their profit as social responsibility, the Bench asked the States to ask the corporate houses to participate in fighting the crisis by providing ambulances, oxygen beds, ventilators, CT Scan machines etc. to Government Hospitals so that economically weaker strata of the society has easy access to such facilities.

[Rishi v. State of Haryana, 2021 SCC OnLine P&H 836, order dated 12-05-2021]

Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

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