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Row over faulty ventilators: Are you not concerned about lives of Covid patients, HC asks Centre

The Bombay high court (HC) on Friday questioned the Central government as to whether it was not concerned about the lives of Covid patients, after the Centre in its affidavit defended the company which supplied faulty ventilators, but said nothing about the remedial measures it was going to take to address the issue of defective and dysfunctional ventilators received by the Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Aurangabad from the Centre
By KAY Dodhiya, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 28, 2021 11:34 PM IST

The Bombay high court (HC) on Friday questioned the Central government as to whether it was not concerned about the lives of Covid patients, after the Centre in its affidavit defended the company which supplied faulty ventilators, but said nothing about the remedial measures it was going to take to address the issue of defective and dysfunctional ventilators received by the Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Aurangabad from the Centre.

The court observed that the Centre’s affidavit also raised a doubt on the efficiency of the doctors and technicians at GMCH, Aurangabad, by claiming that around 3,000 ventilators provided to other states were functioning properly.

The vacation bench of justice Ravindra Ghuge and justice Bhalchandra Debadwar was hearing a suo motu criminal public interest litigation (PIL) initiated by the HC after news reports pointed to a shortage of Remdesivir and oxygen, improper facilities and plight of patients who could not afford treatment of Covid and black fungus infection, improper bed management in hospitals, profiteering by ambulance service providers, among others.

The bench had also taken note of news reports which stated that 113 of the 150 ventilators received by the GMCH, Aurangabad under the PM Cares Fund had malfunctioned, and hospitals and doctors refused to use them as it posed a threat to the lives of patients being treated for Covid-19. Earlier in the week on May 25 the bench had asked the Centre to respond.

On Friday, the Centre submitted its response wherein it stated that the ventilators were purchased by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and categorically denied that they were purchased through the PM Cares Fund.

Assistant solicitor general Ajay Talhar for the Centre said that there was no fault in the ventilators manufactured by the Rajkot-based company as there were no complaints about the 3,000 ventilators supplied by the company to other states. Talhar said the 113 ventilators had malfunctioned as the doctors and technicians had not followed instructions while making the ventilators operational.

The court expressed shock at the submissions and asked, “Are you holding the brief for the company? Are you not concerned about the lives of the citizens?”

“We expected you to say that you will take immediate steps and ask the company to address the issue and ensure that proper installation of the ventilators was done along with imparting training to the hospitals on using them. But you seem to be more interested in defending the company,” the bench added.

The exasperated bench further questioned as to whether the Centre and the company had carried out a study to know if GMCH had the proper infrastructure in place to receive and install the ventilators, as it had read a report which stated that the dean of GMCH had refused to take delivery of the ventilators and it was only after the intervention of the collector that the same was accepted.

On its part, the state submitted a report of a committee of eight doctors involved in ICU’s and was conversant with the use of ventilators which they had handed over to the dean of GMCH. The report stated that they had tested the ventilators and they found that the machines were not fit to use to treat Covid-19 patients. The report also stated that ventilators manufactured by other companies were being successfully used for more than six months to one year and only the ventilators manufactured by Jyoti CNC, Rajkot were malfunctioning.

After the rap from the bench, ASG Talhar submitted that MoHFW would take all remedial steps and ensure that the ventilators operate normally and all defects, if any, would be rectified.

The HC then asked Talhar to take instructions and respond to the eight-member committee report. “We would also appreciate if MOHFW refrains from questioning reports of medical experts and instead respects such reports in the larger interest of the society for rectifying the said machines,” said the bench.

It has now posted the suo motu PIL for further hearing on June 2.

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