‘Duty cast on the State’: HC pulls up Goa on O2 shortage
The right to life is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution, which places a duty on the State to ensure that life is not extinguished on account of its inability to supply oxygen, which cannot be avoided by pleading helplessness, the Bombay high court in Goa on Wednesday warned the Goa government.
Twenty-six people died between 2am and 6am at the state government’s premier health care facility, Goa Medical College (GMC), due to poor oxygen supply. The state’s health minister, Vishwajit Rane, on Tuesday called for an inquiry into the deaths, linked them directly to oxygen shortage, and alleged that several patients were of dying on other days for the same reason.
Hearing a bunch of public interest litigation petitions filed by citizens, the high court said on Wednesday: “There is a duty cast on the State to ensure that this life is not extinguished on account of inability on the part of the State to supply oxygen to these unfortunate victims of the pandemic. This duty can neither be avoided by pleading helplessness nor by putting forth logistical difficulties in sourcing and supplying oxygen.”
The bench of justices MS Sonak and Nitin Jambre added: “At least tonight, and even hereafter, with the joint efforts of the Dean (of Goa Medical College) and the state administration of which he is a part, there are no casualties at the Goa Medical College for want of oxygen.”
The GMC dean, who was summoned for the hearing, told the court that the hospital was facing a shortage of 6.5 metric tonne (MT) of oxygen per day, and that supply was not being augmented.
“We have faced many interruptions in the supply of central oxygen on a daily basis, leading to near critical fall in the oxygen saturations of patients en masse in the intensive care units. The supply of cylinder oxygen, that is used for mild/moderate patients has also been deficient, and erratic, leading to the needy patients not getting it continuously,” Dr Shivanand Bandekar, the dean, told the court.
“For want of sufficient oxygen supply, [we] are unable to use the HFNO (high flow nasal oxygen) machines even though several such machines are available and will provide substantial relief to the victims,” he added.
GMC, which that is handling more patients than its bed capacity, delivers oxygen in two ways -- the 700 beds in the hospital are supplied through a central pipeline, and the 250 additional beds that have been set up during the pandemic are given the medical essential through loose cylinders that need to be replaced and refilled. However, hospital officials admitted that they are struggling to refill cylinders on time due to lack of manpower.
“At times, there has been a problem with the supply of trolleys and loose cylinders, as a result of which there have been instances of a drop in supply of oxygen to the patients, which has resulted in casualties,” Dr Bandekar told the court.
Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said that only the doctors would know how many of the patients died because of low supply of oxygen and how many died because their conditions were extremely critical.
The high court ordered the Goa government to drop everything and ensure uninterrupted oxygen supply to hospitals.
On Tuesday, Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant said that there was no shortage of oxygen, but that it was a logistic problem that stemmed from mismanagement of supplies by the hospital.
“There needs to be a person in charge (for f oxygen cylinders) in each ward. This cannot be left to nurses. Oxygen is there, but it doesn’t reach the wards/patients. We will streamline the process of ensuring that the supply is adequate. We will allocate the work properly,” Sawant said on Tuesday.
“As of now, the state administration will have to focus maximum on improving the position of oxygen supply in the state, and in particular at GMC. As of now, no one can afford to remain in a state of denial about this crucial issue which is taking away the precious lives of our people,” the high court said.
Health secretary Ravi Dhawan assured that in response to the High Court’s directions all efforts were being made find out the solution to this issue of supply of oxygen.
“First the government said that they have oxygen but no cylinders for refill. When we arranged some 100 cylinders, they claimed it was a logistics issue and so the tempos were arranged... But the bottom line is Goa needs 40 metric tons of oxygen instead of 26 it is currently allocated by the Centre. People will keep dying every night till this happens,” Shruti Chaturvedi a volunteer helping with Covid relief in Goa and who is also one of the petitioners before the High Court said.