‘People in Gujarat think they are at God’s mercy’: HC amid Covid-19 surge
The Gujarat High Court on Monday observed that the people of the state were at “God’s mercy” amid the worsening Covid-19 pandemic in the country. The HC’s comments came while it was hearing a suo-motu petition on increasing Covid-19 cases in the state. The court directed the state to take several corrective steps to tackle the situation.
Taking note of media reports on the rising number of cases up to 5,000 during last two days and shortage of hospital beds, Remdesivir injections, oxygen, ventilators and vaccines, chief justice Vikram Nath took up a PIL on Sunday while observing, “The state is heading towards a health emergency of sorts.”
On Monday, not convinced by the detailed explanations and replies by Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, a division bench of Nath and Justice Bhargav Karia asserted that the reality flew in the face of the state government’s claims.
“People now think that they are at God’s mercy,” the bench observed while pointing at several shortcomings in the state government’s handling of the Covid-19 cases.
The HC bench heard out Trivedi but insisted, “The situation is quite different than what you are claiming. You are saying that everything is alright. But the reality is contrary to that.”
The court went on to point out that there was a “trust deficit” among the people of the state. “People are cursing the government and the government is cursing the people. This will not help. We need to break this chain of infection,” the court said.
The bench refused to accept most of the Advocate General’s explanations on the Gujarat government’s Covid-19 measures, especially on the availability of beds or Remdesivir, a key anti-viral drug that is in short supply.
Queues run long outside Ahmedabad’s Zydus Hospital run by Zydus Healthcare that also makes Remdesivir. AG Trivedi denied any shortage of the anti-viral drug and cited expert medical opinion that it should be sparingly used given that it could have adverse effects on the liver and the kidney of the patients.
Trivedi told the court that people who do not need the drug were also trying to buy it as a precautionary measure. He stated, “Remdesivir is not required if the patient is under home treatment or is asymptomatic and not critical.”
He added that even the supply was limited and said, “Only seven companies make it. The production is just 1.75 lakh vials per day. We are procuring around 25,000 injections every day for Gujarat.”
But the High Court wondered if the state government was trying to control the supply of Remdesivir as people were scrambling to get it and even at designated hospitals.
“The medicine is available but it is being controlled by the government. Why can’t people buy it? Make sure it is available everywhere. There is no shortage of Remdesivir. Everything is available with you. We want results, not reasons,” the High Court asserted.
Gujarat BJP President CR Patil organised some 5,000 vials of Remdivisir and offered to distribute it free to people from the BJP office in Surat, while the state reeled under a severe shortage, triggering a controversy. Chief minister Vijay Rupani and his deputy Nitin Patel said they were not aware of how Patil managed the injections and that it was not part of the state’s procurement. The BJP defended Patil stating that the gesture was for the people of Surat suffering from a shortage of the antiviral drug.
Congress accused the government of doing politics over the shortage of the drug.
The court was also livid over reports that RT-PCR test reports were taking too long. Earlier, the RT-PCR test results used to be available within 12 hours.
“It now takes “almost five to seven days”, the bench said, adding, “That is for the common man. For someone like you or Mr Devnani (an advocate party to the case) or us, maybe we can speed up, we can jump the line.”
On the state’s health infrastructure, the court observed, “(It is happening because) you did not have the infrastructure. You did not increase the facilities.” This came after Trivedi explained that the delay was because of a large number of samples being currently received by the labs every day.
The bench scoffed at the government’s claim that there was an adequate number of available beds for Covid-19 patients. “I have information that patients are turned away even if beds are available at hospitals. If beds are there, then why are we seeing 40 ambulances with patients waiting outside hospitals?” asked Justice Vikram Nath.
Trivedi replied that though all hospitals offered similar treatment, people had preferences and this was the reason for a huge rush outside some hospitals.
The advocate general said a lockdown was difficult, pointing out that it would increase the miseries of the poor and migrant workers manifold, especially when the industry is in dire straits.
The High Court finally asked the government to submit a detailed report by Wednesday and scheduled the next hearing for April 15.
Gujarat reported 6,021 new Covid-19 cases and 55 deaths during the last 24 hours as of 5 pm on Monday, its biggest single-day rise since the beginning of the pandemic. The state’s total caseload stands at 3,53,516 while the death toll rose to 4,855 on Monday.
The Gujarat HC has been monitoring Covid preparedness in the state since last year and issued a series of directions to the state government in the past year on ramping medical facilities to deal with Covid-19 cases.