Himachal Pradesh High Court Issues Directions For Government To Tackle Covid-19

                 It is quite remarkable and most heartening to note that the Himachal Pradesh High Court has just recently on December 3 in a recent and significant judgment titled Court On Its Own Motion vs. State of H.P. & Ors. in CWPIL No. 11 of 2020 along with Inderjit Singh vs State of H.P. & Ors. in CWP No. 2687 of 2020 has sharply taken to task even the people themselves and has explicitly held that public at large has also been callous, negligent and irresponsible. So the public have to blame themselves also for the spread of this Covid-19 pandemic. There can be no escaping from this stark and unpalatable truth.

To start with, Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan who authored this extremely laudable, learned and landmark judgment for himself and Justice Jyotsna Rewal Dua sets the ball rolling by first and foremost observing in para 1 in simple and straight language that, “A stitch in time saves nine” if at all the respondent-State had kept this phrase in mind, the State would not have been facing so many new cases of COVID-19 and consequential deaths arising therefrom.”

Having said this, the Bench then does not refrain itself from further also rapping the people on their knuckles and then holds in para 2 that, “However, it is not the Government which is solely responsible for the rise in COVID-19 cases. We may note with regret that the public at large has also exhibited behaviour which is nothing short of being callous, negligent and irresponsible.”

While setting the background, the Bench then observes in para 3 that, “It was in May, 2020, that a Public Interest Litigation being CWP No. 1440 of 2020 titled Sushma Kuthiala vs. State of Himachal Pradesh and others came to be filed before this Court assailing therein the office order dated 04.05.2020, whereby the Deen Dayal Upadhayaya Hospital (for short ‘DDU Hospital’), Shimla was declared as a Dedicated COVID Health Centre and Dedicated COVID Hospital.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then states in para 4 that, “This petition was though dismissed vide order dated 14.05.2020, but there was a pertinent observation made in para16, which reads as under:-

“16. It appears that the DDU Hospital has been notified as Dedicated Hospital on the basis of opinion of the experts in the field. This hospital has been Dedicated as COVID Hospital on the basis of facilities available and also it was notified on the basis of inflow of patients and facilities available, namely, the ventilators, ICUs etc. The existing facilities have been notified for the purpose of Dedicated Hospital whereas in case of Indus Hospital, such facilities are not available there and it requires sufficient time for creating such facilities. While notifying the DDU Hospital as Dedicated Hospital it is the State who has to do it since it has acted as such by issuance of notification declaring the DDU Hospital as Dedicated COVID Hospital on the basis of various factors. According to the learned Senior Additional Advocate General, for making Indus Hospital as Dedicated COVID Health Hospital, it requires a considerable long time and it would not be possible to wait for that time due to fast spreading of this infectious disease.”

While continuing forward, the Bench then adds in para 5 that, “It was on the very next day i.e. 15.05.2020, that a meeting was held wherein deliberations with regard to the gap analysis of equipments in DDU Hospital, but unfortunately no further steps in this regard were taken promptly.”

Most significantly, the Bench then observes while issuing landmark directions in para 20 that, “After due deliberations, we feel that the following directions for the time being are absolutely necessary to tackle the steep surge in COVID-19 cases:-

i. The State shall ensure that senior doctors in all the notified COVID hospitals visit the ward on regular basis in accordance with the instructions issued by the Government.

ii. The State is directed to consider the feasibility of having liquid oxygen tankers stationed at all the notified COVID hospitals.

iii. Respondents to ensure that the manpower hired temporarily on outsource basis through authorised service providers be appointed as expeditiously as possible and in no event later than 5th December, 2020. iv. The State is directed to ramp up the testing by adopting the approved measures by associating private Labs or their technicians, or both.

v. It shall be mandatory for the sample collecting authority to obtain contact number, e-mail id, if any, apart from other details like age, address etc. at the time of taking samples, so that the result of the test can be communicated on e-mail, whatsapp etc. Such report be supplied in a time bound manner and in no event beyond 48 hours, bearing in mind the necessary protocols.

vi. Wide publicity be given in the news, print and social media regarding testing that are to be conducted in walk-in kiosk in all the towns like Shimla, Mandi, Dharamshala, Kullu, Solan, Una, Hamirpur, Bilaspur etc. for the collection of samples during the pre-fixed time everyday. vii. A dedicated helpline in all the COVID Hospitals be notified so that the family members, near and dear ones of the COVID patients can get in touch with such patients to know about his/her well being etc.

viii. Such patients, who are willing to afford, be permitted to have trained nursing attendant at their own costs as this would be a long way to reduce the burden on the hospital staff.

ix. It be ensured that wrapping up of the dead body(ies) of those COVID patients, who unfortunately succumb to the disease, under no circumstances is/are carried out/done in the Ward and the body is removed immediately from the Ward.

x. It be ensured that the toilets are kept in clean and hygienic condition round a clock and a dedicated helpline be provided to the patients, in case, they have any complaint regarding not only the toilets but other facilities.

xi. Provisions for hot water and steamer(s) be made by providing those in adequate quantities alongwith electricity extension boxes.

xii. The State may also consider making COVID test mandatory for the people entering the State from the outside.

xiii. The rules regarding the wearing of mask, social distancing and quarantine be strictly enforced by associating not only the local police but also by engaging the employees of the Municipal Corporation, Home Department and local volunteers.

xiv. It be ensured that no person or family is ostracised by the Society only because the family is COVID positive. xv. No social or public gathering shall be permitted henceforth without the prior approval of the Magistrate with intimation to the local police station who shall then be duty bound to ensure that such gathering does not exceed the prescribed limit. In addition thereto, it shall also be the duty and responsibility of the office bearers of the Panchayati Raj Institutions and local urban bodies, as the case may be, to ensure that the protocols and procedures including wearing of mask, social distancing, home isolation, public gathering etc. are strictly adhered to.

xvi. It be ensured that every person, more particularly, who are engaged in delivery of essential services observe SoPs strictly and their test be conducted on priority basis. xvii. The State would consider providing additional incentives to those deployed in COVID-19 duties including the outsourced workers, more particularly, Class-III and IV, who are working in the COVID wards.

xviii. The patients undergoing treatment at home will be contacted by dedicated medical personnel at least twice a day over his/her telephone so as to monitor the treatment at home.

xix. The State will ensure that the medicine kits being provided to patients undergoing treatment at home are of good and standard quality so as to remove any kind of doubt regarding its efficacy.

xx. The State would also consider having flexi or staggered office time from 9:30 a.m. for the first shift and 10:00 a.m. for the second shift which shall finish at 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., respectively This will help in reducing over-crowding in buses.

xxi. The general public be educated about COVID19 by hoardings, messages through Radio, T.V., booklets etc. by convincing them that it is a collective fight by the society and no one should violate the regulations, procedures and protocols. The people should also be educated about the infection of the Corona, its prevention and treatment.

xxii. Similar exercise shall be taken by all the Secretaries, State Legal Services Authority at their own level and through the PLV’s etc.

xxiii. The Director General of Police is directed to depute extra police personnel(s) from the battalion and other places so as to ensure that no one unnecessarily leaves or enter the containment zones.

xxiv. All those involved in COVID duties irrespective of their rank and files, are restrained from going on strike/dharna and, in case, any one of them have any difficulty, then they are at liberty to approach this Court individually or through the learned Amicus Curiae for redressal thereof, but under no circumstances they would resort to arm twisting by resorting to strike or dharna. In case, any one of them resort(s) to such mis-adventure, then in addition to any other action, which respondents-State may take including blacklisting the firm(s), terminating the services of such employees, he/they shall be liable to be prosecuted and punished for contempt under the Contempt of Courts Act, for deliberately disobeying the directions of the Court.

xxv. Ambulances, six in number, which are fitted with ventilator(s) and other equipments and are stated to be idle, shall be put to use forthwith.

xxvi. Adequate provisions be made for diet, rest etc. for those who have been deputed in connection with COVID-19 duties and if found necessary, assistance of NGOs, Charitable Institutions may be taken.

Finally, it is then held in the last para 21 that, “Status report and point wise response to the suggestions given by the learned Amicus Curiae, as found mentioned in order dated 13.11.2020 alongwith latest status of the make-shift hospitals be filed by the Secretary (Health) in the open Court on the next date of hearing. List on 10.12.2020.”

To sum up: It goes without saying that the people must now wake up and pay heed to what the court has said and stop being callous, negligent and irresponsible as advised by the Himachal Pradesh High Court. The State Government must also not just pay heed to what the Shimla High Court has advised but also implement the various directions issued by it to tackle Covid-19 pandemic which we have already discussed above and which form the cornerstone of this notable judgment. It must be reiterated that only then can this dangerous pandemic be seriously controlled and thus people be saved from falling a prey to its deadly impact also!

Sanjeev Sirohi

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