Without wasting any time, the highest court of our country which is the Supreme Court very rightly, very commendably and very consciously took suo motu cognizance of the most degrading, most deplorable and most dehumanizing treatment of the Covid-19 patients and dead bodies in the hospitals etc after watching it live in India TV news channel as also other news channels especially of LNJP hospital in Delhi which has shaken the whole country beyond belief! Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde took cognizance of this most serious issue and assigned it to a three-Judge Bench as stated below. Former Union Law Minister and senior and eminent advocate of the Supreme Court Dr Ashwani Kumar too had written to the CJI on June 8 highlighting the undesirable and horrifying manner in which patients and the bodies were being mishandled!
No doubt, we all always consider hospitals to be the safest refuge when we are not well. But after seeing what has been shown in different news channels about how the Covid-19 patients are treated, how they are thrown like animals and how even dead bodies keep lying unattended in hospitals. It is high time that the hospitals and the respective State governments must wake up from their deep slumber, see the ground reality for themselves and from now onwards stop trusting hospitals blindly under any circumstances!
It goes without saying that hospitals too must be held accountable from now onwards just like other institutions. Those hospitals who don’t cater for their patients must be held accountable and punished most severely! There should be no mercy for them as they betray the very purpose for which hospitals are set up! Doctors and nurses who are found wanting also must be held fully accountable and penalized severely for it!
To start with, a 3 Judge Bench of Supreme Court comprising of Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice MR Shah in this crucial suo motu case registered as “In Re Proper Treatment of COVID-19 Patients And Dignified Handling Of Dead Bodies In The Hospitals, Etc. in Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No(s). 7/2020 most crucially set the ball rolling by first and foremost observing that, “The cognizance of suo motu writ petition has been taken on the basis of media reports and programmes aired in several channels presenting horrific scenes from LNJP hospital, which is a Covid dedicated hospital. The India TV, in its programme on 10th June 2020, has shown certain videos which indicate the pathetic condition of the patients admitted in the hospital and the deplorable condition of the wards. The patients are in the wards and the dead bodies are also in the same wards. Dead bodies are seen also in the lobby and waiting area. The patients were not supplied with any oxygen support or any other support, no saline drips were shown with the beds and there was no one to attend the patients. Patients are crying and there is no one to attend them. This is the condition of the Government Hospital of Delhi which has capacity of 2000 beds. As per the Government App, only 870 beds were occupied in LNJP Hospital as on 11.06.2020. The Government App itself gives the details of beds occupied in the Government and Private hospitals in Delhi. In the Government hospitals, the number of beds is 5814, out of which 2620 are occupied.”
More damningly and more tellingly, it is then pointed out by the Apex Court Bench that, “The reports also indicate that the patients suffering from Covid-19 are running from pillar to post to get admission in the hospitals whereas large number of beds are lying vacant in Government hospitals. The large number of beds in Government Covid Hospital being vacant in a situation where patients suspected of Covid-19 are running from pillar to post to get admission in any hospital tells about the mismanagement and sorry state of Government hospitals in Delhi. The State is not only duty bound to increase the number of beds but also to provide appropriate infrastructure and staff for manning the Covid-19 patients. The pathetic condition of the patients and improper care and treatment of the patients shown by the media has pained this Court.”
While rapping the State Government of NCT of Delhi and its officers on its knuckles, the Apex Court Bench then further minces no words to observe that, “The State on whom the duty lies to take care of health of its citizens cannot abdicate its responsibility of ensuring that all hospitals including Government hospitals take care of the Covid-19 patients. The duty of the State of NCT Delhi does not end in informing the people that it has arranged 5814 beds in Government hospitals and 9535 beds including private hospitals. The State and its officers are also duty bound to ensure that patients are taken care, attended, provided all medical facility, the hospitals have necessary infrastructure and staff.”
Going ahead, the Apex Court Bench then further observes that, “We have also noticed that the Government App of Delhi itself indicates that the number in testing of Covid-19 patients has gone down in the month of June, 2020 as compared to the month of May 2020. On 27th May 2020, the number of samples tested is 6018, on 9th June 2020, the number is 4670, on 11th June 2020, the total testing in Delhi is reported as 5077 whereas in the State of Maharashtra as 16,000 and in the State of Tamil Nadu as 17675. The media reports indicate that there is an increase in the number of patients affected by Covid-19 every day in the entire country especially in Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Chennai and Ahmedabad. The number of patients increasing day by day is 10,000 or more per day. We do not understand why the tests have gone down in State of NCT Delhi. Non-testing of the patients is not a solution to the problem rather increase in the testing facility is the duty of the State, so that people may come to know about their health status regarding Covid-19 and they may take appropriate care and treatment of Covid-19.”
While strongly recommending more testing, the Apex Court Bench then states that, “We impress upon the States to ensure that there should be steep increase in the testing both by Government hospitals and private labs and whosoever desires for testing should not be denied on any technical ground or any other ground. The States may consider simplifying the procedure so that more and more tests be held to benefit the patients.”
Why talk about Delhi alone? Why not talk about other states also? Why should they be not discussed?
As it turned out, the Apex Court Bench then pointed out that, “We have also noticed that apart from Delhi, there is a grim situation in the other States also, more particularly, in the States of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Gujarat.”
What’s more, the Bench also then brings out that, “Mr. Tushar Mehta, learned Solicitor General appearing for the Union of India submits that although there are Covid-19 Guidelines on Dead Body Management issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Directorate General of Health Services on 15.03.2020 which are in the nature of directives, we notice that there is no proper adherence to the guidelines nor the hospitals are giving due care and concern to the dead bodies.”
Worse still, the Bench then also notes that, “The patients’ relatives are not even informed for several days of the death of the patient as has been reported in the media. It is also brought to our notice that the details of cremation as to when the dead body will be cremated are not even informed to their close relatives. Due to which the families of the patients are not even able to see the dead bodies or attend their last funeral rites.” This a terrible and pathetic state of affairs! What can be worse than this?
Needless to say, the Apex Court Bench then states that, “All these facts, which have been brought to the notice of the Court by the media reports, clearly indicate a very sorry state of affairs of the patients of Covid-19 in the Government hospitals in the NCT of Delhi as well as in other States.”
What followed next was ostensibly as anticipated and as the Bench lays bare that, “We, thus, issue notice to the Union of India, NCT of Delhi, States of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat as well as to the LNJP Hospital in Delhi. We shall also consider issuing notice to other states, Government and Private hospitals subsequently.”
Furthermore, the Bench then adds that, “Mr. Tushar Mehta, learned Solicitor General accepts notice on behalf of the Union of India and Mr. Sanjay Jain, learned ASG accepts notice on behalf of the NCT of Delhi.”
To put things in perspective, the Bench then further adds that, “Let notice be served to other States through the standing counsel of the States as well as through the Chief Secretaries of the State Governments. LNJP hospital, Delhi be also noticed through its Director. We direct that the Chief Secretaries of the States shall immediately take appropriate notice of the status of patients’ management in the Government hospital in their respective States and take remedial action. Status report with regard to Government hospitals, patient care and the details of the staff, infrastructure etc. should be brought before the Court so that appropriate directions be issued by the Court as found necessary on the next date of hearing.”
Finally, the Bench then in the concluding part concludes by observing that, “Notice be issued today itself by the Registry. List the matter on 17.06.2020 for further consideration. Let the affidavit be filed either by the Chief Secretaries or Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of the concerned States. With regard to LNJP hospital, Delhi in addition to affidavit by the Chief Secretaries or Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family welfare, affidavit be also filed by the Director of Medical Superintendent of LNJP hospital. Referring to reports in media showing deplorable state of affairs in the hospital.”
As a corollary, the Delhi government immediately swung into damage control mode and said that it accepted the court’s observations with the “utmost respect and with absolute sincerity”. It also made it known that, “The Delhi government is determined to provide health care for all to ensure best possible treatment to each COVID-19 patient. But, if there are any gaps that still remain and is brought to our notice we will act on them sincerely and immediately.”
It must be brought out here that Delhi recorded 1877 new corona virus cases on June 11, its highest single day spike taking the tally in the city to over 34,000 mark, according to health authorities. The death toll stood at 1085. Delhi has the third highest number of corona virus cases in India after Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
In conclusion, this latest, landmark and extremely laudable wake-up call coming directly from the Apex Court must cause the concerned States and concerned hospitals to immediately swung into action and make the necessary corrections. There can be no excuses or reasons of any kind on this as it directly concerns the lives of the people! The AAP government in Delhi must especially take effective and speedy action to ensure that the deplorable, degrading and detesting conditions of even big hospitals like LNJP are promptly redressed so that the Supreme Court never again is pained to issue compelling directives as we see now!