New Delhi: Using very strong words, the Allahabad high court on Tuesday observed that the death of COVID-19 patients just because of the lack of oxygen in hospitals is a criminal act, “not less than a genocide”, by the authorities responsible for ensuring the oxygen supply chain is maintained.
The remarks were made based on several news items and posts doing the rounds on social media regarding the death of COVID-19 patients due to lack of oxygen in Lucknow and Meerut districts. The court also ordered a probe into the incidents.
A two judges-bench comprising Justices Siddharth Verma and Ajit Kumar passed the order on a suo motu public interest litigation on the spread of COVID-19 in the state and the condition of quarantine centres.
“We are at pain in observing that death of COVID patients just for non-supplying of oxygen to the hospitals is a criminal act and not less than a genocide by those who have been entrusted the task to ensure continuous procurement and supply chain of the liquid medical oxygen,” the court observed.
“How can we let our people die in this way when science is so advanced that even heart transplantation and brain surgery are taking place these days,” it added.
“Normally, we would have not directed the state and district administration to enquire into such news that have been viralled on social media, but since the advocates who were appearing in this PIL supported such news and even submitted that more or less situations in other districts of state are the same, we find it necessary to direct for immediate remedial measures to be taken by the government,” the court said.
The court directed the district magistrates of Lucknow and Meerut to enquire into such news items within 48 hours and submit their reports on the next date. They are also directed them to appear before the court online on the next date of hearing.
The court was informed about a viral news item that five patients had died in the ICU of a new trauma centre in the Medical College, Meerut, last Sunday.
Similarly, Sun Hospital, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow and another private hospital at Meerut had washed their hands off admitted COVID-19 patients only for the reason that adequate oxygen supply was not provided even after demand.
“We find these news items showing a quite contrary picture to one claimed by the Government that there was sufficient supply of oxygen,” the court said, according to Bar and Bench.
During the course of the hearing, advocate Anuj Singh brought it to that court’s attention that the government portal listing all COVID-19 hospital beds available was not giving correct information. To confirm this, the bench asked him to call one of the numbers listed and enquire about beds – and it was found that the government data was incorrect.
“During the course of hearing, Advocate Anuj Singh was asked to dial the number of Hari Prasad Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow, to know exactly as to whether the data was correct or not and as to whether the reply as was received earlier by Sri Anuj Singh remained same, Sri Anuj Singh, dialed the number again and again and the line was showing busy, however, ultimately he had been able to connect and reply was that there was no Level-2 & Level-3 bed available, whereas on the online portal, during the course of hearing of the case, was showing that there were vacant positions of beds in both Level-2 and Level-3 category,” the court’s order reads.
The court also pulled up the Election Commission, which it had earlier questioned on the deaths of poll officials who had been made to work for the panchayat elections despite the raging pandemic. The Election Commission has not taken enough action on the bench’s orders, the court found.
“We find that except seeking a verification from the District Magistrates/ District Election Officers of all the districts vide letter dated 28th April, 2021, nothing more has been done. We make it clear that any slackness on the part of the Election Commission on this issue will not be tolerated,” the bench had said on Tuesday.
Its order also talked about how COVID-19 protocol was openly flouted in the course of the elections: “People gathered in huge numbers at the counting centres and both the Election Officers and Police administration had completely failed to ensure the compliance of Covid guidelines.”
(With PTI inputs)