The Meghalaya Court disposed of a bunch of Public Interest Litigations (PILs) over deficiencies in health services in the state.
The matter has been pending since 2016 and the orders passed from time to time, particularly during the Covid lockdown , may have resulted in a marginal improvement in healthcare facilities in the State.
“However, there remains a yawning gap between what is needed and what is available,” the Court remarked.
There is no doubt that the executive functions within constraints. There is only so much money available and so many heads to spend on, including healthcare, education, infrastructure and the like. The duty of the court in a public interest litigation of the present kind is to bring the inadequacies to the notice of the executive and, sometimes, suggest solutions that may appear reasonable or easy to achieve. At the end of the day, however, it is for the executive to take a decision in the matter upon obtaining expert opinion which may not always be available to the Court , observed the Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice W. Diengdoh.
In the course of the recent hearings, the State has bandied figures indicating that infant mortality rate has reduced in the State as has the rate of death at the time of child birth. The State also claims to have added to the number of primary healthcare centers, enhanced the facilities in government hospitals and recently introduced the only cancer treatment facility at a small unit in the Civil Hospital in Shillong.
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It is noted by the Court that there are only a few private hospitals and most of such hospitals are in Shillong or in Tura and a few around Jowai. In rural areas, the immediate facility is the primary healthcare centre where serious patients may be referred to nearby government hospitals in the major towns. Apart from the government’s healthcare structure and the fledgling private hospital network, Shillong boasts of a mini-AIIMS in the North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences (NEIGRIHMS), which is a super specialty hospital, although it still lacks cancer treatment facility.
Pursuant to the observation in one of the previous orders passed in November, 2022, the State has now entered into agreements with private cancer treatment facilities outside the State where patients can be referred to or who may assist in the treatment of cancer in government hospitals, depending on the stage of the ailment and the state of the patient.
The Counsel appearing for the State apprised the Court that the Shillong Medical College will come up in a few years and land for such purpose is proposed to be earmarked in the New Shillong area. One of the appearing parties suggests that the proposed Shillong Medical College be constructed on the other side of town and may even be close to Umiam since New Shillong already has the super speciality facility in NEIGRIHMS.
There is no doubt that the State government will consider the matter whether two super speciality healthcare units in close proximity may not be ideal since other areas in the State are completely bereft of basic healthcare facilities. The State also submits that the Tura Medical College is under construction and the contractor has been persuaded to expedite the work. It is hoped that the Medical College in Tura and the proposed Shillong Medical College are completed for functioning as expeditiously as possible.
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“The present suo motu proceedings may have worked itself out since the areas of concern, including the supply of oxygen or the availability of oxygen in the State, have already been brought to the notice of the government of the day and it is for the executive now to take appropriate steps within the constraints that it functions in and subject to the availability of the resources. It must also be repeated, in the same breath, that basic healthcare facilities cannot be ignored with the ruse that adequate funds may not be available. All citizens are entitled to basic healthcare facilities and expect the same from the State, which the State is obliged to provide”
-the Court observed.
In the event further major deficiencies come to light or the State government fails in its promised endeavour to augment healthcare facilities in Meghalaya, future proceedings may be initiated, the Court said while disposing of the PILs.