The Sikkim High Court on Tuesday, while hearing the Suo Moto Public Interest Litigation for Covid-19 management observed that “We do understand that formulating a good policy may require a huge amount of brainstorming and resource collection in the present situation, let the policy framing may not be an excuse to strengthen up and build on the capabilities of the infrastructural and human resource to meet the 3rd wave, which today, does seem likely to happen. The augmentation must go on.”
Earlier on 23.06.2021, the Division Bench comprising Justices Meenakshi Madan Rai and Bhaskar Raj Pradhan had expressed concerns over the woefully low number of hospital beds available in the State for treatment of Covid-19 patients. Accordingly, it sought a report from the State as to the course of action it proposes to take. In response to the order, the State of Sikkim has submitted the report before the High Court on 05.07.2021.
The affidavit (report) deals with four things. Firstly, it deals with the covid care facilities in the State. Secondly, it deals with the vaccination drive of the State. Thirdly, it deals with the proposed setting up of Viral Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (VRDL) and finally, with regard to the proposed policy to meet the third wave.
With regard to the Covid care facilities, it is submitted that there is one Covid Dedicated Hospital, 2 Dedicated Covid Health Centres and 28 Covid Care Centres in the State. The affidavit assures the High Court that these facilities have been established in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Centre. A district-wise covid facility table has also been provided.
On July 07, during the hearing of the Petition, the Court observed that the affidavit is, however, silent on which guideline has been followed by the State, what was the requirement as per the guidelines and what are the measures taken and facilities provided as per the guidelines including the human resources.
“The Chart reflects the availability of Medical Officer, Staff Nurse or Medical Attendant only in some Covid Care Centres. A perusal of the chart with the data for 8 Covid Care Centres in the North district, which does not admittedly have even a dedicated Covid Health Centre, reflects a rather grim situation. Each of these centres, having between 5 to 54 beds, seems to be manned by only one human resource.”
The Court said that State has not thought it fit to apprise the High Court, what level of human resources is available in these Covid Care Centres. The chart also reflects that these Covid Care Centres have been provided with medical facilities. “However, the affidavit is silent as to what was the requirement of the guidelines and whether the medical facilities provided in these Covid Care Centres satisfies the guidelines. We are not satisfied with the affidavit.”
The State through its affidavit submitted that the vaccines are allotted by the Centre in an equitable manner as per the population of the State. Once the vaccines arrive at the State Vaccine Store in STNM Hospital, Gangtok, the State Immunization Officer allocates the vaccines to the districts keeping certain factors in mind, such as target population to be covered in the districts, availability of vaccines in the various levels of the districts, daily consumption of vaccines per day, etc. “The affidavit, however, is silent about any attempt being made by the State to communicate with the Centre to increase the quota of vaccines keeping in mind the unique factors in the Sikkim situation highlighted in our order dated 23.06.2021”, observed the Court.
In so far as setting up of VRDL is concerned, the affidavit stated that the request of the State for setting up VRDL at district Namchi had been refused to vide letter dated 24.06.2021. The State has neither provided a copy of the letter dated 24.06.2021 nor provided any information as to why it was refused. The Court is of the view that it becomes more important because of the previous orders passed by the High Court, “whereby we had implored the Centre as well as the State to act in unison to set up such testing facilities in all the districts of Sikkim.”
The Bench noted that the State respondents have requested for Mobile I-LABS as well as two Mobile Testing Laboratories and the State respondents have approved the proposal of TATA MEDICAL AND DIAGNOSTIC (TATA MD) to establish RT PCR laboratory for the Namchi and Gyalshing District Hospitals, within 6 to 8 weeks.
With regard to the ambulances, the Additional Advocate General concedes that there is a mismatch between what is stated in the affidavit and what is stated in the chart provided. He seeks to rectify it.
During the hearing, Jorgay Namka, Amicus Curiae raised an issue before the High Court about action being sought to be taken by the State Government against a Medical Practitioner for unauthorized RAT testing, under the signature of the Director (ADM), Health & Family Welfare Department. The Additional Advocate General seeks time to file a response to this as well.
The Court took cognizance of the situation based on the news item in the Sikkim Express dated 7th July 2021, titled “Covid outbreak in South shelter home”. It is reported that 25 covid positive cases have been reported from Mangalbarey in South District including 16 from a shelter home there. It is further reported that the infected children and the staff of Mangalbarey shelter home have been shifted to Covid Care Centre at CCCT Chisopani. The report further mentioned that recently 21 children and 3 caretakers of a Child Care Institute at Rabongla had tested COVID-19 positive and are presently admitted at the Covid care centre, Kamrang. The report also voices the concern that shelter homes, childcare institutions and other similar institutions cannot totally follow the COVID-19 protocols like social distancing for practical reasons and as such few initial COVID-19 cases quickly infect the other persons staying in institutions and become covid hotspots.
“We are concerned and take cognizance of this news report and seek a report from the State respondents. More importantly, as time is of the essence, we direct the State to immediately take stock of the situation in all shelter homes, childcare institutions, old age homes, destitute homes, observation homes, open shelters, places of safety, special homes and all other such care facilities available in the State, both governmental and non-governmental, to insulate the inmates and staff from the pandemic. Although we are concerned about the limitations of human resources with the State Government, we implore the State Government to take all such measures including vaccinating those eligible in these care facilities, at the earliest,” the order reads.
The matter is listed on July 28, for further hearing.