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Maharashtra taking urgent steps to combat Covid surge, HC told

Mumbai The Bombay high court while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) questioning the mismanagement of the second Covid-19 wave in Maharashtra on Thursday was assured by the state and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) that appropriate measures were being taken to ensure equitable distribution of life-saving drugs and oxygen
By KAY Dodhiya
PUBLISHED ON APR 23, 2021 12:48 AM IST

Mumbai The Bombay high court while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) questioning the mismanagement of the second Covid-19 wave in Maharashtra on Thursday was assured by the state and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) that appropriate measures were being taken to ensure equitable distribution of life-saving drugs and oxygen.

As the hearing was on, additional solicitor general Anil Singh informed the division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Girish Kulkarni that a web portal had carried a report that the Chief Justice of India had taken suo motu cognisance of all Covid-related public interest litigations (PIL) being heard by high courts and decided to hear all petitions together on Friday, with senior advocate Harish Salve as the amicus curiae.

Singh informed the court that it could not continue hearing the case further and that the Supreme Court will deal with the supply of oxygen, essential drugs, method and manner of vaccination and powers of the state to declare a lockdown. However, as the SC was yet to issue an order staying the hearing in the HC or seeking transfer of petitions, the HC bench continued the hearing.

The HC bench, while hearing the PIL filed by advocate Sneha Marjadi, was informed by advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni that the state was taking urgent steps to combat the spread. Pointing to the shortage of oxygen and life-saving drugs like remdesivir, he submitted the Centre had announced that it would take care of it from May 1. On a query by the court on the availability till April 30, Kumbhakoni submitted that measures such as asking suppliers to hand over the medicines directly to the collector who, in turn, would distribute it to hospitals were put in place. To this, the court said there has to be a portal on availability of essential Covid-19 drugs.

Referring to a news report from last year which said that people need to be cautious about the spread of Covid till June 2021, the HC said, “Had we not lowered our guard at least till June 30, 2021, this situation would not have been arisen.”

“You should realise this is an emergency situation,” said the bench, adding that black-marketing and profiteering should be stopped.

With regard to the availability of Covid-19 tests, the state submitted the concerns and suggestions of advocate Simil Purohit for the petitioner to allow more labs for testing and having a uniform rate for the medicines would be considered. The court also stressed on the need for a faster way of testing, asking the state whether RT-PCR tests could be made more affordable and accessible to all.

Addressing the issue of availability of beds, both Kumbhakoni and senior advocate Anil Sakhare for the BMC submitted there were sufficient beds in the state and statistics showed there were more beds than existing patients. “The shortage is because the middle class and upper class are now affected and they want a bed in a hospital of their choice. When the same is not available, it is depicted as shortage, while closeby hospitals may have vacant beds,” said Kumbhakoni.

The court accepted the suggestions of Purohit and advocate Rajesh Inamdar, for an intervener, on the use of print and electronic media to spread awareness on the measures and to curb panic.

The court also sought to know from the state the effects of Covid-19 on smokers and said that till the virus is not eradicated, the state and the Centre should consider banning smoking and consumption of tobacco products.

Reacting to the Nashik oxygen leak that claimed 24 lives on Wednesday, the court said, “How can this happen in a civilised society? While the oxygen supply is less, there is leakage. It is of concern. This is not what we expect from a responsible government.”

The HC said the Centre and the state should set aside politicking and concentrate on tackling the problems. The court scheduled the next hearing for May 6.

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