'Hospital as Good as Dungeon': Gujarat HC Pulls Up Rupani Government for COVID-19 Response

Gujarat has so far shown one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the country.

New Delhi: The Gujarat high court severely criticised the Vijay Rupani-led BJP state government for trying to “artificially control” the COVID-19 epidemic, and termed the civil hospital in Ahmedabad as “good as a dungeon, may be even worse.”

Gujarat has so far shown one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the country, with the civil hospital accounting for 377 deaths – almost 45% of the total deaths in the state. 

A bench of Justices J.N. Pardiwala and Ilesh Vora, while hearing a PIL on a range of issues relating to COVID-19 response in the state, gave out multiple directions to the state government to improve treatment and facilities. 

“It is very distressing and painful to note that the condition prevailing as on date in the Civil Hospital, is pathetic… We are very sorry to state that the Civil Hospital Ahmedabad… appears to be in an extremely bad shape.

“As we said earlier, the Civil Hospital is meant to treat patients. However, it appears that as on date, it is as good as a dungeon. May be even worse than a dungeon,” the bench said, while likening the poor state infrastructure to the “sinking of the Titanic.”

The high court held additional chief secretary Pankaj Kumar, secretary Milind Torwane and principal secretary, health and family welfare Jayanti Ravi, who is in charge of the Civil Hospital, accountable for the severe health crisis in the state. It also pulled up the state health minister Nitin Patel and Chief Secretary Anil Mukim for the problems faced by patients and staff. 

The Indian Express reported that the high court linked the high mortality rates with the lack of ventilators in the state.

Also read: Behind Ahmedabad’s Ventilator Controversy, a Backstory of Connections to Top BJP Leaders

“Is the state government aware of the hard fact that the patients at the Civil Hospital are dying because of lack of adequate number of ventilators? How does the state government propose to tackle this problem of ventilators,” the bench asked, while directing the government to ensure that all multispeciality, private and corporate hospitals in Ahmedabad and adjoining regions reserve 50% of their beds for COVID-19 patients. 

The court also criticised the government’s testing protocol after it told the court that they would decide when the private laboratories would start testing samples for coronavirus. 

“…it has been observed that in many instances, unnecessary testing is being done by private laboratories and therefore, the State has decided to do gatekeeping for private labs,” the state said, adding that the state has enough capacity for lab testing, which was being provided free of cost.

“…the State has decided to conduct testing in government labs so that patients can avoid unnecessary expenditure. Private laboratories shall be allowed to perform the tests, if and when, the capacity of Government labs is exhausted,” the report submitted by the state government to the court said. 

Also read: The Novel Coronavirus Story so Far, From Virology’s Point of View

Currently, there are only 19 government laboratories conducting RT-PCR tests for coronavirus patients, and only 1,78,068 samples have been tested.

Against this backdrop, the court asked the government to immediately procure testing kits and enable private facilities to carry out tests at government rates. It said that the state government until now was only trying to “artificially control the data qua the number of cases in the State of Gujarat”.

“The argument that ‘more number of tests which lead to 70% of the population testing positive for COVID[-19], thereby leading to fear psychosis’ should not be a ground to refuse or restrict the testing,” the court said, while emphasising on better quarantine, or isolation, facilities. 

It also said that although there were enough testing kits, they were not being put to effective use.