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Bombay HC Asks Railways on Steps Taken to Convert Coaches Into Isolation Ward

Public interest litigation filed by Mumbai resident Naresh Kapoor in Bombay High Court raising concerns about measures taken to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday The Bombay High Court directed the Central government to explain steps taken by the Railways authorities to convert train coaches into COVID-19 isolation or quarantine centres and if ICU facilities can also be made available in them.

Bombay Highcourt
Bombay Highcourt

The court said that the Union of India shall file an affidavit indicating the steps taken by the Western Railway as well as the Central Railway to convert coaches into isolation/quarantine centres and why ICU facilities in coaches are not considered necessary,”.

The petitioner, Naresh Kapoor, represented by Advocate Prerak Choudhary, sought the Court’s intervention in directing the State and Union Governments, a petition filed says:

  •  to make  test kits widely available across MMR,
  • to reopen the hospitals earlier ordered to be shut down  and whose licences have expired and/or are the subject of litigation/other proceedings to increase the number of beds,
  • to reopen private nursing homes and dispensaries that are not working and are  shut,
  • to allow private medical practitioners to prescribe COVID-19 Tests,
  • to upload the status of the availability of beds online in ‘Real-Time’ so no patient is denied a bed,
  • To ensure that the railway transport of patients between places is medically suitable and, if necessary, coaches are converted to makeshift ICUs.
  • The petitioner had approached the Court after seeing reports in newspapers, and on social media describing the COVID-19 situation in Mumbai.
  • Another issue Kapur raised was to permit private practitioners to prescribe Covid tests. The HC directed the state to forward to it on Wednesday a civic circular which Kumbhakoni said was in force. The circular permits private doctors to prescribe tests based on ICMR guidelines.

Court’s statement

  • The court observed that it would not be appropriate for the judiciary to interfere in the matter of reopening nursing homes and dispensaries that have been ordered to shut. Reopening of closed hospitals and nursing homes, the HC said, “It has been noticed that facilities for treating COVID-19 as well as non-COVID-19 patients presently at the disposal of the State and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) are not that insufficient so as to call for an order to reopen closed hospitals, nursing homes and dispensaries.”
  • The Bombay High Court recently directed the Central government to file an affidavit detailing steps taken by the Western Railway and the Central Railway to convert coaches into isolation or quarantine centres and explaining why ICU facilities in coaches are not considered necessary.
  • The Bench said instead of the judiciary entering the domain of the executive, opening up more facilities should be left to the latter’s judgement considering the need, if at all, therefore. “If the situation demands, the State or the BMC, keeping in mind the medical protocol required at the moment, may explore ways to make more facilities available at their disposal, other than reopening closed hospitals, nursing homes, and dispensaries,” the HC said.
  • The HC also found “no reason to grant the prayer’’ for reopening of closed hospitals, nursing homes and dispensaries. It said: “facilities for treating COVID as well as non-COVID patients presently at the disposal of the State as well as the BMC are not that insufficient so as to call for an order to reopen closed hospitals.’
  • The HC said directing reopening of closed clinics “would amount to tinkering with administrative or judicial orders. Such a course is plainly impermissible. That apart, in our view, instead of the judiciary entering into the domain of the executive, opening up more facilities should be left to the latter’s judgment considering the need, if at all, therefore.’’

As for the prayer to reopen non-functioning hospitals and private nursing homes, the Bench noted that it was already dealt with by the Court in a June 12 order (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan and Anr. v. State of Maharashtra and Ors).

With regards to Kapur’s plea for rapid antigen detection test for Covid-19, advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni informed the court that the Maharashtra health department has approved the use of Standard Q Covid-19 Ag detection kits, which can detect the presence of Sars-Cov-2 antigens in a patient in 15 to 30 minutes

The State had told the Court that around 80% of beds in private/charitable hospitals were reserved for treatment of COVID-19 patients, with 20% reserved for the patients with straitened means. Additionally, the Court permitted the State to take punitive action against hospitals found violating directives.

Further, The court has issued the date of 2nd July for hearing.

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