Coronavirus update: Calcutta HC to monitor Bengal’s steps in tackling Covid-19 outbreak
The West Bengal government, it said, will inform the court how it was determining the cause of deaths, stopping the spreading of the disease and protecting medical staff and doctors following guidelines of the ICMR and WHO.Updated: Apr 18, 2020, 12:42 IST
Calcutta High Court said on Friday it will monitor the West Bengal government’s preparedness in fighting the Covid-19 outbreak on a regular basis and asked the state to submit reports without waiting for its order.
The division bench of chief justice TBN Radhakrishnan and justice Arijit Banerjee, while passing a long order after hearing arguments on a writ petition, asked the government to inform what action was being taken to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
The government, it said, will inform the court how it was determining the cause of deaths, stopping the spreading of the disease and protecting medical staff and doctors following guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and World Health Organization (WHO).
The writ petition was filed by Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Fuad Halim, who is also a practising doctor.
The bench dismissed advocate general Kishore Dutta’s argument that the petition could not be treated as public interest litigation (PIL) since Halim is a politician.
“We are of the view that this is not an occasion or time for us to consider the maintainability of this writ petition and this is not a matter which should be thrown out at the threshold, since the question raised and which may arise on the basis of the material on record prompts our conscience to have a deeper look into the materials that are being produced on behalf of the State Government in form of affidavits..., the bench said in its order.
“…We proceed keeping open all issues for consideration as and when it becomes relevant to be dealt with in the form of adjudication,” the judges added.
Halim’s lawyer and former Kolkata mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya argued that the government is not following the guidelines of WHO and ICMR. He also criticised the manner of certification and auditing of the reason for death before issuing death certificates.
“We would not venture to say anything on that aspect now. We are aware of various possibilities relatable to the cause of death and the necessity to identify the reason behind a particular death. However, we expect the government to place their response in this regard with the views of the health personnel concerned,” the order said.
The advocate general placed before the court some reports filed by state health secretary Dr Soumitra Mohan.
“Further reports and materials as may be necessary and relevant shall be placed on record by the state by way of an affidavit from time to time without awaiting further orders of this Court,” the bench said in its order.
In its report, the government said, “The state government has issued an advisory on April 13, 2020, in which testing of samples, as per the ICMR’s latest testing protocol, has been advised to the health authorities. In the said advisory, all symptomatic contacts, whether primary or secondary and all asymptomatic primary contacts of COVID-19 positive patient, have been advised to be tested.”
Bhattacharya told the court that there was lack of adequate quarantine facility for doctors, nurses, para-medical staff and other people coming in contact with patients and suspected patients and there was a deficit in their protection and safety norms.
“This is a concern which obviously has to be addressed by the concerned authorities. We expect the state government to place a report in this regard as well,” the bench said.
“We are of the view that WHO and ICMR being expert authorities in the field, their guidelines and advisories are required to be followed by all stakeholders, including the state administration, and we are sure the same shall be done,” said the order.
“A further direction on the respondent authorities is sought for taking an immediate step to convert Calcutta Medical College for use only to house Covid-19 patients and also for improving health infrastructure by arranging sufficient test kit and/or protection measures for doctors to make it compatible to combat the present pandemic situation,” it said.
The hearing was held through video conferencing in keeping with safety norms during the lockdown.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s state secretary Ritesh Tiwari and a lawyer who wrote separate letters to the chief justice, demanding the court’s intervention and seeking the same data, were also made parties in the hearing.
“In my petition, I raised several issues, including the unclear status of Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata which the state government earlier said would be turned into the country’s biggest hospital for Covid-19 cases with more than 3000 beds,” Halim said while speaking to HT.
The Bengal government has come under criticism in recent weeks as, unlike other states in India, it is against outright linking deaths of people with conditions such as diabetes, heart ailments, kidney disease etc to Covid-19 even if they have the infection.
According to experts, such conditions make the disease deadlier. Such deaths are being treated as results of co-morbidity in which a person suffers from one or more conditions in addition to a condition.
“We have formed a committee of five doctors who will decide the actual cause of death. They are the experts, I am not. We do not want to create panic among people. Please trust the doctors,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee said last week.
“We list all deaths and these are sent to the audit committee of doctors. We are not aware how many deaths the audit committee has reviewed so far and how many it has marked as not Covid related,” chief secretary Rajiva Sinha said at a media conference at the state secretariat on Thursday in presence of the chief minister.