New Delhi: The creation of a special COVID-19 healthcare facility in a five-star hotel exclusively for Delhi high court judges, judicial officers and their families at a time when people elsewhere are struggling to find hospital beds or oxygen for their dying relatives, has raised questions around the demand for the facility and the government’s acceptance of it.
The high court on Tuesday sought to clarify that “all that we wanted was, in case [judicial officers] need admission, there may be some facility available”, that has been “converted to such an order… No such request was made by us that set up a facility at this hotel or that hotels.”
While a senior advocate defended the move saying the high court works at the frontline, and at least six of its judges have taken ill and two judicial officers have died, and so it has a right to seek such cover, another lawyer claimed that this was discriminatory since everyone has the right to equal treatment and facilities in such times.
On April 25, sub-divisional magistrate (Chanakyapuri), Geeta Grover, issued an order taking over 100 rooms in the Ashoka Hotel at Chanakyapuri and placing them under the control of Primus Hospital for creating a Covid Health Care facility.
She said “a request has been received from Delhi High Court for setting up of Covid Health Care facility for the Justices and other judicial officers of the high court and their families”.
The SDM said she would therefore “require the 100 rooms of Ashoka Hotel, New Delhi for setting up of Covid health facility for the use of Hon’ble Justices and other judicial officers of Delhi High Court and their families and place at the disposal of Primus Hospital Chanakyapuri, New Delhi with immediate effect”.
The SDM also directed that “the Primus Hospital shall run the CHC facility at Ashoka Hotel” and that “all the services, including rooms, housekeeping, disinfection and food for the patients, etc., shall be provided by the hotel”.
She also directed that “non-compliance of this order shall attract penal action as per Disaster Management Act, 2005 read in conjunction with Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 and penal provisions of 188 of IPC.
At around 8 pm on April 26, LiveLaw reported that the Delhi high court said that “no request was made” by it to the government and has taken suo motu cognisance of newspaper and media reports regarding this and issued a notice to the Delhi government.
“We are informed that no such request has been made in respect of any hotel, much less Ashoka Hotel,” the court noted.
Saying that no request has been made by Delhi High Court to the Delhi Government for setting aside #AshokaHotel rooms for judges as #COVID19 facility, #DelhiHighCourt takes suo moto cognizance of news paper reports regarding the same and issues notice to Delhi Government. pic.twitter.com/ItZeCy7A2Y
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) April 27, 2021
The issue was flagged on social media with several people questioning the need for “5 star health infra for judges” when there were “no beds/ oxygen for common citizens”.
#DelhiGovernment has converted part of the Ashoka Hotel into a luxurious Covid facility for High Court Judges and their families. No beds/oxygen for common citizens & a 5 star health infra for judges. Kudos @ArvindKejriwal pic.twitter.com/PIqLeCPDE5
— Abishek Kaul (@kaul_abishek) April 26, 2021
Reacting to the development, senior advocate and social activist Ashok Agarwal tweeted that the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi wants to say that it cares for very important persons.
Delhi Govt wants to tell they care VVVIPs https://t.co/kOWKSu6NeK
— Ashok Agarwal (@socialjurist) April 26, 2021
Speaking to The Wire, Agarwal said, “When there is discrimination like this, it is a blot on the Constitution.” He insisted that “in these times, discrimination of any kind – be it of cremation ground, of hospital or of any facility, is absolutely unethical and unacceptable. You have to treat everyone in the same way.”
He said, “If a person is suffering from COVID-19 and needs treatment for infection in the lung or oxygen for survival, then you cannot say that this person is a high court judge so give him oxygen first and to the others later.”
He said it was time for the government to give up on unethical practices. “Already, we have lost so many things, and now we are in the process of losing even more by adopting all unethical methods. It is a time to stop unethical attitude – at least from the government. They must stop all unethical practices.”
Agarwal pointed out how there was a video of a resident doctor of RML Hospital in which he claimed that while VIPs were getting admission in the COVID-19 facility, he was himself struggling to get a bed after he fell sick. “It is sad that these government institutions only serve the rulers when they should actually be serving the (ordinary) people.”
Another senior advocate, Sanjay Hegde, however, defended the move. Asked if such a facility would divert resources like oxygen and beds to a facility meant for a select few, Hegde said: “No it has not created a special facility. If you look at the geography Ashoka and Primus are around two kilometres apart. So it is an administrative call.”
Hegde acknowledged that the facility was being created for a specific group, but he justified its creation saying, “They are a frontline group and there have been at least six judges of the high court who have gone down (tested COVID-19 positive) in addition to many court staff. And two subordinate judges have even died.”
“The Delhi high court,” he said, “had asked for a Covid Health Centre. That is a fair request because the high court and its staff, everybody deals with a large number of the public. They are at the frontline. So the Delhi government seems to have responded by dedicating these many rooms in a nearby hospital in attendance. That decision is by the Delhi government. It doesn’t look like they said you give us this hotel or that hotel.”
On the Delhi Government being a party in many cases, even on COVID-19 issues, before the Delhi high court, he said, “There was nothing wrong as the government has not offered to come up with a facility within the high court or offered to send its doctors there. The determination is that of the Delhi government – which these days is the Lieutenant Governor also.”
Note: This article has been edited since publication with the update on the Delhi high court saying that no request was made by it to the Delhi government for such facilities.