Ori HC | Justice A.B.S. Naidu, former District Judge appointed as Inquiry Officer regarding Covid-19 Mismanagement at VIMSAR

Orissa High Court: A Division Bench of S Muralidhar, CJ and Savitri Ratho, J. directed independent inquiry by a retired District Judge to elicit the complete facts and submit a report accordingly.

The instant petition was filed highlighting, inter alia, the health crisis and Covid-19 mismanagement in western Orissa as there was an alleged lack of proper medical facilities at the Veer Surendra Sai Institute of Medical Sciences and Research (VIMSAR), Burla, Sambalpur. It was also alleged, inter alia, that the medical professionals and authorities in charge of VIMSAR’s management had behaved irresponsibly and displayed insensitivity to the plight of the Covid- 19 victims. A letter was sent to the Collector & District Magistrate, Sambalpur, asking him to “make a discreet inquiry into the matter and furnish a report” to the Department. According to the said report, there was no shortage of medicine and no lack of proper treatment or facilities.

Mr Gyanadutta Chouhan, the Petitioner in person, filed nine affidavits of persons whose close relatives purportedly suffered on account of lack of proper or timely treatment at the Veer Surendra Sai Institute of Medical Sciences and Research (VIMSAR), Burla, Sambalpur during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Court observed that each of the nine affidavits reveal prima facie that the victims did not receive the requisite medical treatment at VIMSAR and that needless deaths had occurred as a result thereof.

The Court further observed affidavits of the nine deponents’ raises serious questions involving the fundamental right to health which is an inherent part of right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. VIMSAR is one of the premier medical institutions of the State catering to the medical needs of the population of western Odisha. It has to function in the manner befitting its status of providing the highest standard of care and treatment to everyone for that purpose. 

The Court directed “an independent inquiry by a retired District Judge be held in Sambalpur itself to elicit the complete facts and submit a report to this Court on completion of such inquiry”

Directions issued are as follows:

(i) Mr A.B.S. Naidu, a former District Judge is appointed as Inquiry Officer to examine the instances set out in the nine affidavits filed in this Court by the Petitioner and in particular whether there was medical negligence in the treatment of the victims of those cases.

(ii) Registry is directed to provide a copy of the complete set of records of this writ petition including the nine affidavits to Mr Naidu at the earliest.

(iii) The Government of Odisha shall take immediate steps for completion of necessary formalities by the publication of the Notification within a week from the date of receipt of the order. The Inquiry Officer within a period of one week from the date of publication of the Notification will initiate the process of inquiry by giving a public notice both electronically as well as in the print media inviting affidavits of the persons (other than those nine who have already submitted affidavits) who have been victimized by lack of proper treatment and care at VIMSAR and fixing an outer limit for receiving such affidavits which in any event should not be more than 15 days from the date of publication of such notice.

(iv) The place of enquiry shall be the premises of the District Court at Sambalpur. The District Judge, Sambalpur shall provide the space in the premises of the District Court for holding such enquiry. The Opposite Party-Government through the local administration shall provide all necessary infrastructure as well the Secretarial Staff and other support services as would be required by the Inquiry Officer without any delay to enable him to function and conduct the enquiry as quickly as possible.

(v) The Superintendent of Police, Sambalpur will also ensure the safety, security of the Inquiry Officer, his records and generally the premises where the enquiry shall be held by deploying sufficient police personnel as may be determined by the SP, Sambalpur on an assessment of the situation.

(vi) The Inquiry Officer will be paid an honorarium of Rs 2.00 (two) Lakh per month by the Government of Odisha for the enquiry which will be concluded within a period of 3 months from the date of commencement of such enquiry. In any event, the enquiry report should be made available to this Court by the Inquiry Officer not later than 1st November, 2021. The incidental expenses of the Inquiry Officer in conducting the enquiry and his functioning shall be borne by the Government of Odisha as per the bills raise on actual basis without any delay. The Government of Odisha will also provide the Inquiry Officer, the transport and conveyance facility besides his temporary accommodation.

(vii) Full cooperation be extended to the Inquiry Officer by the local administration and in particular by the Management, medical personnel, staff and workers of VIMSAR.

(viii) The Inquiry Officer will ensure that the relevant records for treatment of the victims available in VIMSAR is immediately secured and kept in a sealed cover with the custody of the Inquiry Officer.

(ix) The Inquiry Officer will draw up the procedure for conducting enquiry, and the schedule for completion of the pleadings, receipt of affidavits and examination of witnesses, within a week of taking over the inquiry, and give it wide publicity in the print media and on the internet. He may create a website for the office of the inquiry. The Inquiry Officer is at liberty to devise a flexible procedure consistent with the needs of the situation without overlooking the basic requirement of the rules of natural justice so as to subserve the ends of justice.

(x) It will be open to the Petitioner to participate in the enquiry proceedings and place the necessary documents and further information before the Inquiry Officer. In particular, he should provide forthwith the Inquiry Officer the original affidavits of nine individuals filed by him in this Court.

(xi) The Inquiry Officer will in his report also give suggestions, after consulting expert witnesses, on the steps taken to improve the existing medical infrastructure and the standard of medical treatment and care provided at VIMSAR and generally in other government medical/health facilities. He will give his suggestions regarding payment of compensation where the allegation of lack of proper medical treatment and care and/or medical negligence stands established.

The matter is next listed for 08-11-2021.[Gyanadutta Chouhan v. Additional Chief Secy to Government, Health and Family Welfare Department, WP (C) No.17152 of 2021, decided on 07-07-2021]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


Appearances:

For petitioner: In-person

For Respondent: Mr. M.S. Sahoo

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