Himachal Pradesh High Court on Thursday came down heavily on the state government on the massive spurt in the Covid-19 cases and a high number of deaths, saying apathy in taking timely action to handle the situation had led to this.
Clearly reminding that “a stitch in time saves nine”, the high court in its 21-page, hard-hitting order said if at all the respondent state had kept this phrase in mind, Himachal Pradesh would not have been facing so many new cases of Covid-19 and consequent deaths.
Voicing its serious concern, a division bench of Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Justice Jyotsna Rewal Dua quoted media reports that “evidently Shimla has become corona capital of the state posting an increase of 183.1% cases between October 31 and November 30, 2020, and in addition thereto, six other districts have been showing multiple increases”.
The bench though expressed displeasure to the government over delays in its response and also creating the necessary infrastructure, deployment of manpower and ensuring healthcare facilities in the hospitals but also viewed the carelessness on the part of the people as the reason for the spike.
“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,” the bench said.
The court ordered the state government to ensure that senior doctors are posted in the Covid care wards to ensure that they regularly visit the patient as the reports clearly suggest laxity on the part of senior doctors in attending the patients. The court also passed strict directions to increase Covid testing without fail adopting the approved measures by associating private labs or their technicians, or both.
It should 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 and so on. “Such reports are supplied in a time-bound manner and in no event beyond 48 hours, bearing in mind the necessary protocols,” the bench said.
Agreeing with some of the suggestions, which amicus curie Bipin Negi, a senior advocate made before the bench, the judges asked the government to consider making Covid tests mandatory for the people entering the state from outside.
Currently, there are no restrictions at the borders on the entry of outsiders or need of any prior Covidtest report, which earlier was mandatory. But there is night curfew enforced in four hotspot districts of Shimla, Mandi, Kullu and Kangra between 9 pm and 6 am.
The 26 specific directions which the court issued include steps to examine the feasibility of having liquid oxygen tankers stationed at all the notified Covid hospitals in the state.
It set a deadline of December 5 for the state health authorities to ensure that temporary manpower was hired on an outsource basis as expeditiously as possible to meet the shortage of the staff so that patients were fully taken care of.
The court asked for wide publicity (in the news, print and social media) that’s tests will be conducted at walk-in kiosks in all the towns like Shimla, Mandi, Dharamshala, Kullu, Solan, Una, Hamirpur, Bilaspur and so on at a pre-fixed time every day.
The court directed that the office bearers of PRIs and ULBs be involved to ensure that protocol and procedures, including wearing of masks, social distancing are strictly adhered to. Even municipal staff, home guards and others could also be engaged to enforce the mandatory protocols at public places.
A dedicated helpline in all the Covid hospitals should exist to help the family members of Covid patients to stay in touch. If any patient can afford to hire private nurses, he or she should be allowed to do so as it would reduce the load of the hospital staff, the court added.
Taking note of the fact that bodies of the patients in case of demise are wrapped in front of the patients in the Covid care wards, the court made it amply clear that it should not be done under any circumstances. The body should be removed immediately from the ward.
“We also order to keep the toilets in clean and hygienic condition round the clock and a dedicated helpline be provided to the patients,” the court said.
The court also took strong notice of recent threats of strikes by the employees of 108 ambulance service. It said that if any employee resorts to strike or dharna or in case, any one of the resort(s) to such misadventure, then in addition to any other action, the authority should also ensure blacklisting the concerned firm, terminating the services of such employees.
Such employees and firms should be liable to be prosecuted and punished for contempt under the Contempt of Courts Act, for deliberately disobeying the directions of the court, it said.
The bench said adequate provisions be made for diet, rest for those who have been deputed in connection with Covid-19 duties and if found necessary, the assistance of NGOs, charitable Institutions may be taken.
The bench asked the state to submit the status report over the directions by December 10 for further hearing, beside a point-wise response to the suggestions given by amicus curiae Bipin Negi.
The high court had taken up the case suo moto.