Door-to-door vaccination could have saved many lives, Bombay HC tells Centre
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarani questioned the Centre for not answering its question on starting door-to-door vaccination of senior citizens, saying many live could have been saved had it started months back
The Bombay High Court pulled up the Maharashtra government over lack of doctors and other medical staff in prisons and correctional homes across the state. The High Court also directed the state government to check if anyone, including celebrities or politicians, were indulging in illegal procurement of drugs like Remdesivir after a petitioner cited reports of celebrities offering COVID-19 drugs to people even as state-run hospitals are without stock.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni issued the directions while hearing a bunch of petitions on shortages of COVID-19 drugs along with a suo motu case on containing the spread of novel coronavirus in Maharashtra prisons.
The court directed the government to follow Centre's directive on inoculation of prison inmates without the Aadhaar cards.
Hearing another petition, the court questioned the central government as to why it had not started door-door vaccination programme for senior citizens, observing that many lives could have been saved, including prominent persons, had the Centre started the programme a few months ago.
Vacant posts in prison hospitals; HC pulls up state
"You (state) say you have doctors, but then you'll have to show us how the strength is spread over all correctional facilities. In these difficult times, one-third is vacant," the Bench said.
"The medical staff category Class 1 is an MBBS doctor. In the prisons in Kolhapur, Amravati, Yerwada, Nagpur, Mumbai Central prison, there are no class 1 staff," the bench of Justices Datta and Kulkarn added.
In the Taloja prison, located in neighbouring Navi Mumbai, there were only three Ayurveda doctors, the high court said, adding that as per rules, prisons were supposed to have different categories of medical staff, including MBBS doctors and paramedical staff.
The bench also noted that in the Yerwada prison in Pune, for a total of 8,000 inmates, there was not a single doctor available.
The court also directed the Maharashtra government to follow the Centre's SoP on vaccinating prison inmates, including those inmates who do not have an Aadhaar card.
Hearing a bunch of petitionns on shortage of Remdesivir and other COVID-19 drugs, the bench sais that the state should consider appointing nodal officers to contact film stars and politicians who were helping citizens procure Remdesivir and other drugs required for the treatment of COVID-19 .
Follow Centre's SOP on vaccinating prison inmates: Bombay HC
Hearing a suo motu case on containing the spread of COVID-19 in Mumbai prisons, a bench of Justices Datta and Kulkarni slammed the government for vaccancies of doctors in prisons and noted that as per the state's own records, almost one-third of the posts of medical officers in jails across Maharashtra were lying vacant.
The bench said as per the Centre's rules, all prisons should have requisite and able medical staff, but the state's affidavit before the high court was "absolutely silent" on the issue.
"Already one year of the pandemic is over. In these times, you can't depend on the already burdened state-run hospitals. All jails must have at least the sanctioned posts filled," the high court told the goverment.
The court also directed the government to vaccinate prison inmates, including those without Aadhaar card, as per Centre's SOP.
During the previous hearing last month, the high court had asked the state what would be done for vaccinating the inmates whodid not have an Aadhaar card.
On Wednesday, the state and the Union government informed the high court that on 6 May, the Centre issued detailed SoPs (standard operating procedures), entrusting district task forces with the responsibility of registering those groups of people on CoWIN portal who did not have any photo ID cards or Aadhaar cards, and for ensuring that they were vaccinated.
The Union government's counsel, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, told the high court that as per these guidelines, prison inmates could be vaccinated even without the Aadhaar cards, but they would have to register on the CoWIN portal.
On shortage of drugs
During the hearing, the Maharashtra government and the Union government submitted different figures of Remdisivir being supplied and received.
While the state authorities told the bench that while Maharashtra's requirement was of 70,000 vials of Remdesivir per day, it had received only 45,000 vials per day so far, the Union government's affidavit in the HC claimed that as on 21 April this year, a total of eight lakh vials of Remdesivir had been allocated to Maharashtra and the state had received 5,85,062 vials so far.
The HC said, "If there is a difference in the figures given by the Centre and the state, then a problem exists at the root level. Why can't an officer of the state and the Centre sit and discuss via video conferencing?" It directed the Union Government to inform the court by 19 May the next date of hearing, what has been done to address the shortage of Remdesivir in the state and to ensure manufacturers identified for the state were providing the requisite quantity.
Check if actors, politicians are indulging in hoarding, illegal procurement: HC
Advocate Rajesh Inamdar, representing one of the petitioners, then told the high court that even as several hospitals in the state were running out of Remdesivir and other drugs like Tocilizumab, some celebrities and politicians were responding to citizens' pleas made on Twitter and other social media platforms and helping them procure the medicines.
"There is this film star who is helping people across the country. He is loved by everyone. People tag him on Twitter for help. They say he is even better than the government," advocate Rajesh Inamdar, representing one of the petitioners, said without taking any name.
There is a video where the actor is asking if a patient needs Remdesivir or Tocilizumab, he noted.
"Is he a pharmacist? It's good that he is helping, but how are government hospitals not getting enough stock?" the advocate asked.
Inamdar told the high court that Maharashtra had not received any stock of Tocilizumab since 4 May this year.
He said that citizens were forced to approach the social media and tag celebrities or politicians for help.
The state earlier said it had appointed nodal officers to keep an account of the procurement and distribution of Remdesivir and other drugs in state-run, municipal and private hospitals and health centres.
To this, the high court said, "Why don't you appoint nodal officers for film stars and politicians? They (stars and politicians) will have blessings of God. If they are helping people, we will not come in their way. But, why not appoint nodal officers to ensure help reaches all those in need."
The high court also said the nodal officers must check if anyone, including celebrities or politicians, was indulging in illegal procurement, black-marketing, or hoarding of such drugs.
"We are here to do justice in accordance with law. We cannot go against the law," the court said.
Anjali Navle, the counsel for another petitioner, said if celebrities and politicians want to help, why can't they give that stock to the government? "I say so because there are instances of adulteration of Remdesivir," she said.
The HC then asked the state and the Union government to file their affidavits on the issue.
Door-door vaccination would have saved many lives: HC
Hearing a public interest litigation filed by two lawyers Dhruti Kapadia and Kunal Tiwari seeking door-to-door vaccination facility for senior citizens, the high court once again reiterated the need to pro-actively start this programme when the lives of senior citizens, who are unable to go to vaccination centres to get inoculated, could be saved.
"It has been three weeks and the government (Union) is yet to inform us of its decision. The government should have taken a decision one way or the other," the court said. It directed the Union government to file an affidavit by 19 May, when it would hear the matter further.
"Speaking off the cuff, if we had a door-to-door vaccination programme sometime back, then so many of our senior citizens, including prominent members of society from various walks of life, who have lost their lives to COVID-19 , could have been saved," Justice Kulkarni said.
The court further said it had seen photographs of senior citizens and many wheelchair-bound persons waiting outside vaccination centres in long queues.
"This was very heart-rending and not a good sight. They must be already suffering from so many ailments and now they face the risk of being infected with COVID-19 also (while) waiting in such crowds," the bench said.
The court noted that many foreign countries have already started door-to-door vaccination facilities.
"In India, we do many things late and things travel to our country very slowly," Justice Kulkarni said.
"Why not start this (door-to-door vaccination) pro-actively when the lives of senior citizens are concerned?" the court asked.
The court noted that senior judges of the high court had a meeting with Birhanmumbai Municipal Commissioner Iqbal Chahalon Tuesday where he said the civic body was planning to start ward-wise vaccination camps from next week, which would have the capacity to inoculate 70,000 people per day.
"If such camps are starting, then maybe senior citizens and people who cannot step out of their homes can be identified and the staff can go to their homes and vaccinatethem," Chief Justice Datta suggested.
The bench directed the BMC to file an affidavit stating details of the same and by when it would begin and what steps the corporation plans to take for the next few days with regard to the vaccination programme.
The court noted that the availability of vaccines was also a problem. To this, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh told the court that the Covishield vaccine would be made available in a few days.
The court also sought to know from the civic body about what measures it plans to take for the vaccination of homeless people, beggars and those living on streets.
"They are also a significant population and arespreaders of the coronavirus ," the high court said.
The court will continue hearing the pleas on 19 May.
With inputs from PTI
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