UP panchayat polls: HC seeks SEC’s explanation over deaths, Covid violations
The Allahabad high court on Tuesday took note of reports related to deaths of government employees on panchayat election duty and directed the State Election Commission (SEC) to explain by the next hearing as to why it failed in checking non- compliance with Covid-19 guidelines during various phases of the panchayat elections in the state.
The court also asked the SEC to explain why action may not be taken against it and 27 of its officials for the same, including prosecuting those responsible for such violations. The court mentioned a news report which alleged there were 135 deaths of government employees on panchayat election duty due to Covid-19.
The state is witnessing four-phase panchayat elections that began on April 15 and will end on April 29.
Fixing May 3 as the next date of hearing in the case, the court directed the state government to place before it by then the details of beds for Covid-19 patients, medicines and oxygen supplied in various hospitals of Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Agra, Kanpur Nagar, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddha Nagar, Gorakhpur and Jhansi.
The high court also directed the state government to ensure health bulletin, twice a day, in major government hospitals of Lucknow, Prayagraj, Varanasi, Agra, Kanpur Nagar, Gorakhpur and Jhansi, giving health updates of the patients.
The hospitals were asked to use large screens to give details of patients and their oxygen saturation levels.
Further, the state government was directed to declare on the district portals of these cities the number of beds that were occupied and vacant in Covid-19 wards and ICUs of all government and private hospitals.
The bench comprising Justice Siddhartha Varma and Justice Ajit Kumar passed the order on a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) on the spread of Covid-19 in the state and the condition of quarantine centres.
The court said that mere antigen negative report should not be a ground to discharge a patient as such patients could still infect others. They needed to be shifted to non-Covid wards for at least a week. For this, the government needed to gear up to set up makeshift wards on the campuses of hospitals, the court said.
The court directed that government hospitals be provided with sufficient medicines and injections, including Remdesivir, for patients. The oxygen supply to hospitals should remain uninterrupted, the court said.
On the difficulties faced by Covid-19 patients, the court observed, “If even after seven decades of our attaining freedom with so many heavy industries set up, we are not able to provide oxygen to our citizens, it’s a matter of shame.”
The court said the authorities concerned must ensure proper management of doctors, medical and paramedical staff as they were all working day and night and getting infected as well.
On certain reports of attacks on medical staff by the public, the bench said, “When near and dear ones die, they go frustrated at the system of healthcare in the state and soft targets of their ire are the medical and paramedical staff.”
“The situation overall in the major cities of Uttar Pradesh has gone very chaotic for the current Covid surge. Whether it is day or night, the ghost of Corona is marching on the roads and streets of the major cities of the state and it can be anybody’s fate. Those who are resourceful will survive and the rest as histories of past pandemics tell us may die for want of proper healthcare. As the government in its wisdom has resolved to only two days’ weekend lockdown to break the chain and has further proceeded with some measures as a sequel to that, but mere fact that number of positive cases, as have been shown to have been reduced a little in numbers due (to) two weekend lockdown days, nothing remarkable seems to have been achieved on the front of public health care to the satisfaction of the people,” the bench observed.
The state government was asked to increase the number of ambulances immediately and to ensure that ambulances must be well equipped with life-saving devices.
The bench also directed the government to ensure that every Covid related death was reported to a judicial officer to be appointed by district judge at the end of the day. The government should also ensure the correctness of the data forwarded to the officer concerned each day. Further, cremation in Covid death cases must be done as per the guidelines issued by the government.
The bench observed, “We make it clear that we will not tolerate any paperwork or public announcements to show account of the steps taken and its sufficiency as it is now an open secret that government had gone complacent due to weakening of virus impact by the end of 2020 in the state and the government got more involved in other activities, including panchayat elections.”
“Had it been constantly vigilant, it would have prepared itself to face the onslaught of the pandemic in its second wave. Posterity would never forgive us if we remain oblivious to the real public health issues and let the people die for want of adequate health care,” the bench added.
The court said, “Though we acknowledge the fact that government alone cannot fight with its available resources and needs people’s cooperation and active participation of various other non-government bodies, but those in power must shun the attitude of ‘my way or no way’ and should welcome suggestions from all the quarters.”