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Probe how politicians, film stars procured Covid drugs, Bombay HC directs Maharashtra govt

While appreciating the initiatives of some political leaders and film personalities to help Covid-19 patients, the Bombay high court (HC) on Thursday directed the state government to probe as to how they procured essential Covid drugs that were being allocated by the Central government to different states
By KAY Dodhiya, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 27, 2021 11:37 PM IST

While appreciating the initiatives of some political leaders and film personalities to help Covid-19 patients, the Bombay high court (HC) on Thursday directed the state government to probe as to how they procured essential Covid drugs that were being allocated by the Central government to different states. The HC also noted that those personalities could not resort to extra-legal methods by bypassing the state, to procure drugs even if their intentions were noble.

The division bench of justice AA Sayed and justice Girish Kulkarni, while hearing compliance of its directions by the Centre, state and BMC that were passed in a clutch of public interest litigation (PIL), was informed by the respective counsels that the issues pertaining to fire audit of hospitals, providing oxygen and essential drugs to treat Covid and black fungus infection, bed management, cremation and curbing black marketing of the drugs had been addressed to a large extent.

The PILs had alleged that there was large scale mismanagement by the authorities during the second wave of Covid-19, hence sought various directions on shortage of Remdesivir and oxygen supply, curbing black-marketing and profiteering during procurement and distribution of Covid-19 drugs among others.

Advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni representing the state while submitting compliance of the earlier orders of the HC in the PILs informed the bench that notices were issued to actor Sonu Sood’s charity foundation and Congress MLA Zeeshan Siddique by the drugs inspector and an inquiry was underway in relation to their procurement of drugs.

Kumbhakoni submitted the state affidavit wherein it is stated that the actor and the MLA in response to the inquiry had informed that they had not purchased or stocked the medicines and injections and had merely acted as facilitators. “The reply states that Sood’s foundation requested manufacturers such as Cipla, Jubilant and others to help them to provide required medicines to needy patients,” said Kumbhakoni adding that notices had been issued to the manufacturers.

Additional solicitor general Anil Singh informed the bench that the central government had already questioned the manufacturers and they had denied having supplied them to any politician or celebrity.

“They might be doing it bonafide, but not realizing the legal repercussions. They want to help somebody but it has to be within the parameters of the law and they cannot have extra-legal methods by which drugs are made available. Those who want to help, let them do that with procedures known to the government,” said the bench.

The bench clarified that as neither Sood nor Siddique were party to the case it was not passing any orders against them but directed the state government to caution them and continue with the inquiry.

Kumbhakoni then informed that following the recent fire incidents in Covid-19 hospitals, fire audits of 479 out of 520 government hospitals and health centres had been undertaken and directions were issued to them to comply with fire safety norms. Nine establishments had received fire NOC and mock fire drills were successfully conducted in 395 units.

With regards to cremation Kumbhakoni submitted that while there was a delay in cremation due to large numbers, there were no cases of denial of decent cremation or burial for want of space like in other states where bodies were consigned to the river without proper cremation. The court then directed the state and civic authorities to install smoke controlling devices in crematoriums to reduce the pollution under the supervision of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board.

On being assured that there was no shortage of oxygen, the bench asked the state to consider passing an ordinance making it mandatory for private hospitals to have their own oxygen manufacturing units to meet the demands in light of the possibility of a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Regarding Mucormycosis cases, Kumbhakoni submitted that to date there were 3,200 cases mainly found in Covid patients and the daily requirement for treating it was 14,000 vials of Amphotericin- B drug however it was receiving only 4,000 vials on an average from May 11 to 25, per day.

The PILs will be heard for further compliance on June 2.

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