ILNS: The Uttarakhand High Court on Tuesday pulled up the state government over shortcomings in the Maha Kumbh preparations with regard to Covid-19 protocols during the event and said there was nothing symbolic about the religious congregation anymore.
The bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Verma sought answers from the Secretary of Health Ministry to give answers with respect to Covid facilities in the state, including the availability of vaccines, Remdesivir injections, ICUs, ventilators in Hospitals, list of private hospitals and who are following the government circulars, availability of CT scan machines in the state, status of lockdown and curfew, closing of colleges, and arrangements for upcoming Kedarnath door opening and other shortcomings noticed by the Chief Justice himself.
The Court was hearing a batch of PILs filed against the state and the district authorities, regarding shortcomings in the Maha Kumbh preparations. The Bench heard the reply from Kumbh Mela official regarding the same; however, it was not inclined to know what happened during the Kumbh Mela.
The Chief Justice shifted the scope of questions and its extent to not just Kumbh, but the war the state is soon going to face, in the aftermath of the Maha Kumbh and the upcoming door opening ceremonies of Kedarnath and Badrinath Temples, amid the spike in the cases of Covid-19 and the shortage of medical facilities.
Chief Justice Chauhan wanted to know how and whether the state government was trying to control, contain and treat the patients of Covid due to past, present and future religious congregations. He seemed unsettled with the state’s actions with regard to preparations.
The Chief Justice asked the Chief Secretary of the state,
“How do you prevent the spread? Are you prepared to enter into the eye of the storm? There are lacunae in medical health system, let’s shift our focus from Kumbh now.”
To this, the Standing Counsel stated, “It’s symbolic, regarding the last Shahi Snan.”
The Chief Justice said there is nothing symbolic about it; the escalation is twice the rate than last year.
He said, “16.2 percent of our population is infected. What is preparation of our state?”
The Chief Justice iterated that 48 of his lawyers are down with Covid, particularly those hailing from Ram Nagar, Haldwani and Nainital regions.
“There is no proper facility at hospitals in Haldwani. I don’t have any health care system in Nainital, where will we take them? Please come to Haldwani, I’ll show you the hospital condition,” Chief Justice Chauhan added.
The Chief Justice also stated that the High Courts of Telangana and Allahabad have given ultimatum about lockdowns to the respective state governments.
“Rajasthan has already imposed lockdown and Delhi too. What is Uttarakhand’s policy for coming three weeks? Your colleges are still open, what is your policy? What is this general thinking of government?” the Bench asked the Chief Secretary, who was present through video-conferencing.
The Chief Secretary assured that by April 22, when the Cabinet sits, they will surely come out with an order regarding this. As far as the general thinking is concerned, all colleges are going to be shut for a month and night curfew is going to be imposed from 9 pm to 5 am, he added.
Questioning the effectiveness of such night curfew, the Chief Justice said,
“We (Uttarakhand) don’t have any night life like metro cities. There is hardly any night life like Bangalore and Hyderabad. If our people confine themselves till 6, then what is this symbolic gesture in the name of night curfew? I have seen the night life of metro cities, but what is the purpose of night curfew here?”
The Chief Secretary then stated that Dehradun is possibly an exception, to which the Chief Justice asked, “What is the purpose of night curfew in Uttarkashi and Chamoli? What about ration or medical emergency in these regions? It is creating an obstacle.
“Now do they need an urgent curfew pass? In Rajasthan, everything is closed except essential commodities and construction work. To me, a total lockdown makes sense, however, a night curfew where there is no night life makes no sense to me. In Uttarkaashi, Joshimath, Kashipur and Rudrapur, tell me how many go out at night?”
To this, the Chief Secretary stated that the government will impose curfew from 1800 hrs.
To which Chief Justice Chauhan voiced his opinion, “How much life is left after 6 in Uttarakhand? I don’t think people in Uttarakhand go out to have a drink at night. I hardly see any people. I have been told that Kedarnath’s door will be open from May 18. I want to know how you are going to address it; again congregation is going to lead. We are already suffering because of Kumbh Mela.
“Everyone is wondering and asking what is happening in Haridwar. Question is, are we not going to regulate how many people are going to Kedarnath? What is your protocol? What are the policies by the state government? Are you going to permit 1000 people in Kedarnath at one time? Sir (Chief Secretary of the State) this is the ‘issue,’ we can’t let you make this state become a hot bed for Covid.
“It seems your organisation, your SOPs stands shattered. What has happened in Kumbh Mela everyone has seen, let us be very practical, it is like a black plague as if you are in 16th century. Dr Manmohan Singh (former Prime Minister of India), K. Chandrasekhar Rao (Telangana Chief Minister) are COVID positive. Those who are VVIP are getting COVID. The states need to worry about its common men… Are we going to live in a fool’s paradise? Kindly see the long queue of dead bodies waiting to be cremated. It’s our people who are dying,”
-the Chief Justice said.
“I can assure you if the state doesn’t take an action I’ll pass an order. My people of Uttarakhand are not insects. With all due respect, please wake up, only because God is kind to you and me…But please ask those who are losing their dear ones.
“Delhi doesn’t have vaccination and decent bed, when it has a fantastic health care system. We (Uttarakhand) don’t have 1 percent of it. Don’t let the Kedarnath and Badrinath be another Kumbh ka Mela, We can’t afford that… These promises are absolutely meaningless. I am well aware of good job done by you (Chief Secretary) and Mela Adhikari, but 2 days in Kumbh, there is nothing.
The Chief Justice then asked the Secretary (Health Ministry) to provide with a complete list of Covid19 Hospital, number of Hospitals of Haridwar and Dehradun, Number of hospital with COVID facility, how many beds are available? How many of total number of beds equipped with cylinder and other facility, number of staff and how many doctors are present per bed, position with regard to vaccination, percent of population vaccinated, how many left? Are you prepared to do the bit for incoming requirement?
I have heard that medical staffs are not getting PPE kit. They are scared to enter the campus, I have heard about Sushila Tiwari Hospital in Haldwani is a dump, what are your facility for this? Do you have enough PPE kit? How well you prepared are is the question. Forget about what we face in August. Tell us about now. Whether these fresh data are available or not? Whether AIMMS Rishikesh is designated as COVID hospital or not I have no idea. My question is how many hospitals are designated with COVID facility. What is the condition??
According to the Secretary (Health Ministry) the testing rate is 50 percent higher than the entire country.
The Chief Justice then stated the issue with the number of testing to the Secretary (Health Ministry), “kindly look at ICMR guidelines, it tells you how many per lakh needs to be tested. I am sure that you are not keeping up with the ratio. Look Maharashtra, it is testing far more people than 6000, for Dehradun it should be at least 30000 testing per day.
Secretary (Health Ministry) argued that if the figures are taken out the state is better in testing than Telangana and Maharashtra.
The Bench then asked about the bulletin data of past two days and it was noticed that, it does not show how many people were tested it only shows positive and recovered cases. Why don’t we have that data?
Secretary (Health Ministry) stated that the data that the Chief Justice wants is available on portal of Arogya Setu app to which the CJ said that he finds it totally vague.
“There is a 6.4 percent increase in positivity rate. Question is how many persons are affected by July. There is a difference between testing and being ill. People testing are less and people coming to hospitals are more. There has to be some dynamic number. We expect 6 lakh people to get affected by July. Do we have enough bed? Are we planning to construct temporary hospital? How many medical staff will you get? At the time of Kumbh you told me Doctors and Staff are coming from UP and Haryana but we looked at the condition of past couple of days. Aarogya setu which was published 17 mins ago. It does not tell me how many people were tested yesterday in state of Uttarakhand. It’s not showing. ”
-Chief Justice said
The Secretary (Health Ministry) then revert that most of the people are in home isolation, after 10 days it has been assumed that person is negative now. So, only 10 percent are in hospital out of the total positive people.
The Chief Justice then stated that Haldwani city has no ventilators, if this is the case then we are in trouble.
The Counsel for the petitioner, Shiv Bhatt, stated that he has taken the details from Uttarakhand website of hospital. While looking at the data Chief Justice calculated that there are around 8 beds missing. The Chief Justice observed that there is something wrong with the data provided in the website of State of Uttarakhand. The counsel also submitted that doctors are getting non practicing allowance while they are still doing their practice.
The Chief Justice then shifted the focus to Mobile testing for places at higher altitudes. He asked the Secretary (Health Ministry) to tell the court about the details and whether the state can pursue it.
As per the Secretary (Health Ministry), we have come a long way; a lot of facilities are adopted at different places. It takes time to take the samples and the concern is right that it is taking time to test and sending sample to Delhi.
The Chief Justice then added a few more questions to the length, “can we have mobile testing bus sent to Uttarkashi? Would it not be better if we do that?
The Bench also expressed its concern regarding the over-use of drug Remdesivir and how doctors are giving it to most of the patients. The bench said that there has to be some notification or circular as to how the medicine should be prescribed and to whom. Also the new Mutation Virus is unable to get caught under a RTPCR test and therefore the patients are going for CT scan.
Counsel for Petitioner Dushyant Manali submitted that there is a shortage of ICU and Non-ICU bed and in Haldwani area there are no beds. There are CT facility available in certain private hospital, and there is a golden card scheme by state but that card is not accepted by any of the hospital for retired and serving employees of govt. But this is not working and it is made clear by hospital staff.
There are various complaints, that additional charge is being asked from patients, the implementation of upper cap is not done by state.
Another Counsel Piyush Garg submitted that Kumbh Mela is a symbolic thing but the government is not taking cognizance of Mahant and Sadhus there. They are several saints who are positive and the government needs to impose a compete lockdown in Haridwar. The counsel then asked, are we waiting for Kumbh to get over and then break the chain of spreading of Virus by isolation? There are two Akharas who take the Holy Dip one by one; it is going to be the other Akhara’s turn while all celebrations will be restricted except Kumbh.
The Petitioners’ counsel Bhatt also stated that out of 13 Akharas 6 went back without testing although other states have issued the circular that, for people coming from Haridwar 10 days quarantine is mandatory but they don’t have data of all these people. This is total violation of SOPs. What reports are coming to the court are already vetted by the government.
The Chief Justice then reiterated his question, “Are we prepared for the dark clouds over the horizon? How well prepared are we for July and August?”
The Chief Justice then concluded the hearing by laying out several questions for the Ministry to answer, “Are 25 percent beds reserved for below poverty class? He observed that even Apollo and Jashodha Hospitals were not following it in Hyderabad. How many hospitals are following it? What are the conditions imposed by the government? Also things pointed by Bhatt, what action is being taken against such doctors who are getting allowance and also separately practicing. Tell us on the next occasion. Also tell us about the availability of ICU beds in outline districts. Other states are rushing to Gujarat for anti viral vaccination? Are we in touch with Gujarat?
The Secretary (Health Ministry) stated that the state has got some supplies of Remdesivir, we have sent a supply order and in 3-4 days it is going to ease up. Also the government cannot tell the doctors about what medicines to be used.
The Chief Justice asked the Secretary to at least write it to the Doctors which would be sufficient for them to understand it.
The Secretary (Health Ministry) requested the bench that since they are so heavily engaged, some time should be given, like 2-3 weeks. “We need some time, we are fighting a war.”
The Chief then stated, “The war has not even begun, the battle of Panipat will lie in the month of July.” The Bench ordered to list the matter on May 10.