Gujarat High Court: Taking suo motu cognizance of the way private hospitals in the State of Gujarat are indulging in blatant profiteering in the time of Covid-19, the Division Bench of J.B. Pardiwala and Ilesh J. Vora, JJ., gave important directions to the State Government in relation to regulation of private hospitals; proper arrangement of sending the migrants to their homes and overall management of every aspect of governance to deal with one of the greatest humanitarian crisis the world has seen. The Court also expressed its deep respect for all the frontline ‘corona warriors’ for showing exemplary dedication towards public welfare.
Prior to issuing directions, the Bench, at length discussed the reports provided by various Government Departments highlighting the steps they have taken to alleviate the sufferings of the public. The Court further noted that how the print media highlighted the fact that Gujarat has been one worst hit with the coronavirus and how frontline ‘corona warriors’ like the doctors are not being provided with enough PPEs to protect themselves from being infected. The Bench observed that the public healthcare system is completely overwhelmed with the situation. The Court also took notice of the fact that how several private hospitals are using this situation to charge exorbitant amount of money from people to conduct tests and treatments. The Court also lamented upon the situation prevalent in Civil Hospital at Ahmadabad where the situation is such that it has ‘contributed the most in increasing the number of Covid-19 deaths in the State.’ Finally the Court also took notice of the news published in The Times of India, wherein they had pointed out how the revenue department has been issuing threats to boycott the work related to the migrants as “it is not a task meant for the employees of the revenue department”.
Perusing various Supreme Court decisions; relevant statutory provisions, Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of the State Policy as enshrined in the Constitution, The Court issued the following relevant directions-
- Expressing its exasperation upon seeing that how multi speciality hospitals in the State are seeking to profit off people’s perils, and pointing out that health is a recognised Fundamental Right in the Constitution, the State is obliged to protect it. Therefore the Government was directed to initiate legal proceedings against all those private / corporate hospitals that are not ready and willing to honour the understanding arrived at with regard to treating the COVID19 patients. Directions were given to the State Government to initiate talks with certain excluded multi-speciality hospitals and enter into a MoU with them. The Court further pointed out that in times like these; the private hospitals have both moral and legal obligations.
- The State Government was directed to issue a Notification making it mandatory for all the multi-speciality private / corporate hospitals in the city of Ahmedabad and on the outskirts to reserve 50% of their beds (or such other capacity, as the State Government may deem fit and proper on the basis of the increase in the number of cases). Furthermore the State Government should explore the possibility of extending Ayushman Bharat project to the private hospitals as well.
- Regarding the situation persisting at the Civil Hospital in Ahmadabad, the Court directed the Government to transfer the doctors not working properly in the hospital to other districts; improve working conditions of the resident doctors; ascertain accountability of senior officers who have failed to improve the health care provided by the hospital; increase the number of hospital beds and ventilators etc.
- The Court directed the Gujarat Government to adopt the policy of State of Maharashtra, to ask the general physicians to run their own clinics or serve in the Government COVID hospitals. It was further directed that the Government must ensure the procurement of testing kits thereby enabling the private players to carry out Covid testing at Government prescribed rates.
- The Railway authorities were directed to waive of one way charges of migrant labourers or in the alternative, for the State Government to bear such charges.
- Finally taking a stern notice of the actions of the revenue department in issuing threats to boycott the tasks related to the migrants, the Court directed to State Government to take strict actions to resolve the issue.
Giving out concluding remarks, the Court drew an analogy between the Covid- 19 crisis and the time when Titanic sank. Pointing out that how only 1 ship ‘The Carpathia’ which was farthest away from the sinking ship was the one and only to respond to the distress call sent out by the Titanic. Commenting that in an unprecedented crisis such Covid-19, all the organs of the State; the private players; the NGOs all must try to emulate the spirit of The Carpathia and try to work together to alleviate the sufferings of the people, especially the poor. [Suo Motu v. State of Gujarat, Writ Petition (PIL) No. 42/2020, decided on 22-05-2020]