THREAT: The Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court was informed that its order had not been implemented on checking those entering into Goa, particularly in the case of Konkan railway passengers
By Nigel Da Costa Frais
In the latest hearing on the various petitions filed on the handling of the second wave of the covid pandemic, it has been pointed out that no proper testing has been done in respect of passengers arriving at the Konkan Railway stations
Some of the learned Counsel for the Petitioners have raised the issue that there was no proper implementation of our interim order dated 6/5/2021, concerning the requirement of COVID negativity test for entry into the State of Goa. One of the grievances concerns the Konkan Railway Corporation in the context of the passengers arriving through the trains. Now, the Konkan Railway Corporation has addressed a communication dated 12/6/2021 to the District Magistrate of South Goa stating that they have commenced checking at the stations and have taken several steps to publicize the requirement of COVID negativity certificate for entry into the State of Goa. The State Authorities have also filed an affidavit that the Police personnel is guarding check posts to enforce the requirement of the COVID negativity certificate.
- Mr. Nigel Costa Frias and Mr. Akash Rebello, the learned Counsel for the Petitioners submitted that the State Authorities are now permitting the persons who are tested negative by undergoing Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) to enter into the State of Goa. They submit that there is sufficient medical literature that establishes that RAT is a relatively weak test, as compared to RT-PCR or TrueNat, or CBNAAT tests, which are far more reliable. The learned Counsel pointed out that the State Authorities must now insist upon negativity certificate based upon the later tests, instead of RAT, if the 3 rd wave has to be effectively contained.
- The learned Advocate General submitted that even the ICMR has accepted the RAT, as a test for screening at points of entry. He submitted that in any case, even these issues can be left to the decision of the Expert Committee. Even according to us, this issue can first be considered by the expert committee.
- Accordingly, we direct the Expert Committee to also go into the issue as to whether the persons tested negative based on the RAT can be permitted to enter into the State of Goa, or whether only the persons tested negative by undergoing the RT-PCR, or TrueNat, or CBNAAT tests, should be permitted to enter into the State of Goa. The State Authorities to place before the Expert Committee the statistics which are to be found in the affidavits filed in these petitions where the emphasis is only on the adoption of RT-PCR or TrueNat, or CBNAAT tests as a precondition for entry into the State of Goa. The Expert Committee to take appropriate decisions on this issue and forward its observations and recommendations to the State Task Force. The State Task Force to then take appropriate decisions on this issue based upon the observations and recommendations of the Expert Committee. All this exercise to be completed before the next date which shall be 12th July 2021 and necessary compliances filed before this Court.
- Next are the general issues relating to the preparedness of the State Authorities for the potential third wave. The Petitioner in Writ Petition No.1191/2021, through his Counsel Shri Amey Kakodkar has urged that the State Authorities, in consultation with Epidemiologist must address the issue of projections of daily new COVID-19 cases as a statistical measure of preparedness for the potential third wave.
- The State Authorities have submitted that they are seized of the issue and they are in a state of preparedness to meet the third wave, should the same unfortunately hit the State of Goa. The State Authorities have referred to the constitution of the Expert Committee and the State Task Force, which are continuously engaged in such preparation. The State Authorities have also pleaded that the District Magistrates are closely observing the pandemic situation and issue necessary order under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code from time to time. Reference was also made to the affidavit dated 11/5/2021 filed by the Additional Secretary (Health) in which steps that are being taken to contain the pandemic, have been set out.
- The State Authorities have also referred to the affidavit of the Additional Secretary (Health) filed on 27/5/2021. The learned Advocate General pointed out that in the said affidavit, measures taken by the State Authorities have been set out. He submitted that these measures are being continuously reviewed by the Expert Committee and the State Task Force and such reviews will continue. He submitted that there is a sufficient number of medical personnel and para-medical personnel available to tackle any contingency arising out of the potential third wave. He submitted that the Doctor-to- bed ratio and nurse-to-bed ratio prescribed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare are being complied with by the State Authorities. He submitted that arrangements have been made on the issue of supply oxygen, medicines, and drugs as indicated in the various affidavits filed from time to time.
- Again, we may only observe that these are all matters which will have to be assessed by the Expert Committee and the State Task Force in the first instance. These are also matters which will have to be addressed by the committees constituted under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The learned Advocate General has assured us that all these committees are continuously monitoring the issue of preparedness and such monitoring will continue periodically.
- The learned Counsel for the Petitioners or the Petitioners themselves have made several suggestions in the context of the preparedness of the State or, the measures that could be adopted. There is no doubt the State Authorities will consider the same to the extent appropriate and feasible. The involvement and contribution of public-spirited persons and NGOs are quite vital in combating the pandemic and should be welcomed by the State Authorities.
- Perhaps recognizing the above, the Central Government has issued directions to every State to appoint Nodal Officer for management/coordinating with NGOs/CSOs/Voluntary Organization, Faith-bases Organization, Religious and Social Trusts at the State level. The purpose for the appointment of such a Nodal Officer is to enable the public-spirited persons and the NGOs to interact with the Authorities, offer such suggestions, and make contributions in terms of time, money, and resources. The purpose is also to properly channelize the efforts and contribution of the public spirited persons and the NGOs during this pandemic. The contribution of the public-spirited persons and the NGOs during this pandemic has been substantial. However, some of the Petitioners/ intervenors like Mr. Amit Palekar pointed out that in the absence of proper coordination, they were hindered in offering their best services to the victims of this pandemic.
- The State Authorities have placed on record Order dated 9/6/2021, in terms of which Smt. Ankita Anand, IAS, Director of Information Technology, Altinho, Panaji, Goa has been appointed as the Nodal Officer for management/coordinating with NGOs/CSOs/ Voluntary Organization, Faith-bases Organization, Religious and Social Trusts at the State level. Though, there is no specific reference to the public-spirited persons, from the context it is apparent that the Nodal Officer will also have to engage with such public-spirited persons that offer their services during this pandemic. The State Authorities should therefore give sufficient publicity to this Order dated 9/6/2021, along with details as to how and when this Nodal Officer can be contacted. This exercise will have to be completed at the earliest and we direct accordingly. The Petitioners are also at liberty to forward their suggestions to the Nodal Officer who shall, then scrutinize the same and thereafter, place the same before the Expert Committee or the State Task Force or the Committees under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. If any of the grievances can be sorted out at the level of the Nodal officer, then we do not doubt that the Nodal officer who is an IAS officer will redress the same.
- Some of the Petitioners have raised an issue regarding the imposition of lock-down, curfew, or unlocking procedures. They have referred to the strategies adopted by different States and the experience gained from them. Again, we feel that since the State Authorities are alive to these issues, it will not be appropriate for us to issue any specific directions. We may only add that the Expert Committee should be taken into confidence even in matters concerning curtailment of curfew or the unlocking procedures. Ultimately, the opinion of the medical experts is quite vital in such matters because they will be better suited to make recommendations in this regard. The medical experts will be better suited to assess the medical position and the load on medical infrastructure in the State. Some lessons will also have to be necessarily learned from the experience of the disastrous consequences of the second wave when during the interval between the first and second waves, the State of Goa was brimming with tourists and others who were granted entry without any restrictions. Therefore, we feel that the Expert Committee should invariably meet and deliberate on this vital issue and offer its opinion or recommendations in writing to the State task force and the authorities under the Disaster Management Act. These authorities or for the matter the District Magistrates must take into account such opinions and recommendations before they take any decisions on such vital issues concerning the curtailment of curfew, unlocking procedures, etc. We direct accordingly.
- Some of the Petitioners have raised the issue relating to vaccination to prevent the spread of the COVID pandemic. The State Authorities have filed reports, explaining the position of vaccination in the State of Goa. The learned Advocate General has assured us that vaccination drives are on and it is expected that within the next 2-3 months, most of the population in the State of Goa will be vaccinated. He submitted that in any case, the State Authorities are making all-out efforts to ensure that most of the population is vaccinated as early as possible. We accept this statement and direct the State Authorities to act accordingly.
- The issue of door-to-door vaccination for persons with disabilities or senior citizens who are unable to access the vaccination centers, will be considered separately. The learned Advocate General has assured this Court that State will see how this issue can be addressed a suitable response will be filed on this issue before 12th July 2021. 48. The Petitioner in PIL Writ Petition No. 1202/2021 has raised the issue of establishment of funds by the State Government in terms of Section 48 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Mr. Rao, the learned Counsel for the Petitioner submitted that there is no clarity as to whether the funds, as contemplated by Section 48 of the said Act, have at all been established. He submitted that the establishment of such funds is a statutory requirement and, in any case, the same is necessary to combat the disaster, which we currently facing on account of the pandemic.
- Section 48 of the said Act indeed requires the State Governments to establish State and District Disaster Response Funds and the State and District Disaster Mitigation Funds. The State is also duty-bound to ensure that the funds established are available to the State Executive Committees, already constituted under the said Act or the State Authorities or the District Authorities which are also said to have already been established.
- The learned Advocate General stated that a necessary response in this regard will be filed on the next occasion. He submitted that the State Executive Committee is functioning and the Committee is constantly engaged in monitoring several issues concerning the pandemic. We direct the State Authorities to file an appropriate response on the issue of establishment of funds by the State Government as mandated by Section 48 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, latest by 12th July 2021.
- Mr. Rao also pointed out that despite our directions, the Expert Committee has not bothered to assess the suitability of Bosio Hospital as Covid Care Centre. The learned Advocate General pointed out that presently there is no necessity of having any additional Covid Care Centres. In any case, in terms of our directions suitability of Bosio Hospital as Covid Care Centre is required to be assessed. Even if the hospital is ultimately assessed as suitable, there can be no obligation on the State Authorities to accept the said facility as a Covid Care Centre. The assessment will only ensure that if there is a necessity to have additional Covid Care Centres, then, such facilities can always be considered at that stage. The State Authorities to, therefore, take steps to comply with our earlier directions on this issue.
- Mr. Rao also pointed out that several of the Covid Care Centres may not have the necessary facilities and equipment, as have been mandated by the Central Government. He referred us through the charts provided by the State Authorities and attempted to demonstrate that there is non-compliance.
- The learned Advocate General assured this Court that there is substantial compliance. He submitted that in some of the Covid Care Centres, there may be some deficiencies for the present. He submitted that this is because those Covid Care Centres are presently not in use because of the drastic reduction of COVID cases. He, however, submitted that the State has the necessary infrastructure and equipment, and should any occasion arise to reoperate these Covid Care Centres, there will be full compliance with the directives of the Central Government. For the present, we accept this statement made by the learned Advocate General. We also feel that the Members of the Expert Committee and the State Task Force should look into these issues as measures of preparedness for the potential third wave and satisfy themselves on proper compliances or potential for quick compliances.
- The Petitioner in PIL Writ Petition No. 1216/2021 represented by Mr. Shivan Desai raised certain issues relating to the SOPs to be adopted for the treatment of Mucormycosis (black fungus) cases. The learned Advocate General pointed out that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has issued detailed protocols and SOPs for dealing with the Mucormycosis or for that matter multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children and adolescents, and the State Authorities will follow such protocol or SOPs. The learned Advocate General submitted that the State Authorities, including, in particular, the Goa Medical College Authorities are alive of these issues and necessary steps are being taken in that regard. Again, we accept the statement made by the learned Advocate General and direct the Authorities to act accordingly.
- The learned Counsel for the Petitioners have raised an issue regarding medical infrastructure. Again, we accept the various statements made in the affidavits filed by the State Authorities that necessary medical infrastructure is in place. The learned Advocate General assures this Court that even the position of infrastructure is being constantly monitored and reviewed by the Expert Committee and the State Task Force. He submitted that such reviewing and monitoring will continue. Again, we accept this statement of the learned Advocate General.
- On the issue of infrastructure, if the Petitioners have any suggestions to make, or any contribution to offer, they are at liberty to approach the Nodal Officer Smt. Ankita Anand. We do not doubt that the Nodal Officer will consider the suggestions or the offers of contribution by the Petitioners and other public-spirited persons or NGOs on such issues.
- The Petitioner in Writ Petition No.1222/2021 has raised certain issues specific to the Super Specialty Block. In terms of certain orders made by us, some of the issues raised in this Petition have already been redressed. The Petitioners can now approach the Nodal Officer Smt. Ankita Anand with their grievances and suggestions. We have no doubt that all such grievances will be considered and suitably addressed through the medium of the Nodal Officer to the extent possible. The learned Advocate General has assured us that the Super Specialty Block is now functional and quite geared up to meet the challenges which the potential 3rd way may pose. 58. The Petitioner, Anup Prabhu Verlekar who has instituted PIL Writ Petition No.1213 of 2021, has raised certain issues relating to fire audit or electricity audit at the Government and NonGovernment hospitals which are treating COVID patients. He points out that the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued directives regarding fire incidents in hospitals and nursing homes and steps to be taken to prevent the same. He has referred to the MHA directives dated 28/11/2020 on this issue.
- We do not doubt that the State Authorities will consider such directives and take appropriate steps as may be necessary to ensure that there is a proper fire audit at the hospitals. The learned Advocate General has pointed out that this issue is being considered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court as well and the State Authorities have filed an affidavit explaining the steps taken in this regard. The learned Advocate General submitted that necessary steps are being taken in this regard and the State Authorities are quite alive to the requirement of fire audit in these difficult times.
- The learned Advocate General also referred to the affidavit dated 27th May 2021 filed by the Additional Secretary (Health) in which certain measures already adopted, have been set out. The learned Advocate General submitted that necessary compliances are being filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court which is also seized of the matter. Now that the Authorities are alive to this situation, we expect the Authorities to take all necessary steps to see that proper fire audits are conducted at the hospitals and there are no fire incidents that will peril the lives of the patients, doctors, and other personnel at the hospitals.
- Mr. Verlekar also raised certain issues concerning the disposal of masks, etc. This Petitioner can also approach the Nodal Officer Smt. Ankita Anand and we do not doubt that the issues raised by this Petitioner and the suggestions made by him, will be taken into consideration.
- From the records we find that the expert committee has not met for quite some time. We would therefore request the committee to meet at the earliest so that the State Authorities are in a position to report compliances.
26 PIL Writ Petition No.1172/2021 (filing) is posted for further consideration on 12th July 2021. The interim orders made from time to time shall operate through this pending Petition.
Smt. M.S. Jawalkar, J. M.S. Sonak, J.