The Patna High Court has directed authorities in Buxar and Kaimur to file an affidavit within two days regarding dead bodies found floating in river Ganga.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S Kumar also issued several directions to the Bihar government regarding the management of the COVID-19 situation in the State.
The Court expressed concern that data on the number of deaths has not been submitted by the State.
“Any death, more so, in the rural areas for lack of access to a medical facility, including testing in a violation of fundamental right. Action has to be taken on a priority basis, and the State must furnish information to the Court with promptitude,” the order stated.
In this backdrop, the following directions were issued to the State government:
- Medical assistance: The government hospitals run by the State and the medical officers employed therein are duty-bound to extend medical assistance for preserving human life.
“Failure on the part of even private hospitals to provide timely medical treatment to a person in need of such treatment results in a violation of his right to life guaranteed under Article 21,” the Court said.
- Registrations of death in rural areas: The Court directed all authorities to take all steps to ensure implementation of government policies, including those pertaining to immediate registration of deaths, more so in the rural areas of Bihar. All deaths must be reported within 24 hours.
“A true picture is essential for taking effective steps in defeating this pandemic Covid-19,” the Court added.
- Union government should extend help regarding oxygen: The Court directed the Union Ministry of Health, to the extent possible, to favourably consider the request forwarded by the State seeking enhancement of the quota of oxygen cylinders, within the next four working days.
- Affidavit on dead bodies found in the Ganga:The Commissioner of the Buxar and Kaimur districts are directed to submit affidavits regarding the disposal of the bodies found flowing in the river Ganga within two working days.
- Release oxygen seized from black marketers: All concerned authorities have been directed to take appropriate steps for the interim release of oxygen cylinders seized from black marketers and hoarders, which are necessarily required for saving human life.
- Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar shall file a fresh affidavit: The Secretary has been directed to furnishing complete information in a format (tabular chart) prepared by all the learned counsel. The Court said that it should be positively done within the next four working days, failing which the Secretary shall be asked to join the proceedings.
- Fresh data be furnished:The Court has directed the authorities to submit fresh data regarding RT-PCR tests, positivity rate, deaths, and number of Covid Care Centres (CCC), Dedicated Covid Health Centres (DCHC), Dedicated Health Centre (DHC) and private hospitals in each one of the districts.
The Court also took a dim view of the affidavit filed by the Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar, on May 9.
“We notice that the Affidavit is conspicuously silent on the issue of (i) availability, requirement and distribution of Oxygen; and (ii) disposal of bio-medical waste generated out of all operations concerning Corona Virus.”
On May 10, the Court had asked the State government to shift its focus from urban to rural areas. During that hearing, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the State government, opposed the direction, arguing that the Court may “exceed” its jurisdiction in a matter falling purely within the executive domain. In response, the Court said,
“We are afraid it is not so, for as a Constitutional Court collectively, we hold the responsibility to ensure that the State’s people, regardless of their geographical location, do get timely aid ensuring no loss of human life purely on account of lack of medical health infrastructure. We clarify that the Court is not venturing into a roving enquiry but seeks information only in the context of peculiar geographical and demographical diversity of the State of Bihar…”
In its order, the Court also highlighted the role of public representatives in rural areas and said that they must engage themselves at the grass-root level. The court also added that “it would not hesitate to issue directions regarding their removal” if they fail to discharge their statutory duties.
“They are close to the electorate, be it their supporters or voters. Any death taking place in the rural area is immediately made known to all by word of mouth. This alone would help the authorities ascertain exact information of the cause of death enabling them to take further action in controlling the Pandemic. We clarify that we would not hesitate in issuing directions for the removal of such public representatives who fail to discharge their statutory obligations.”
Towards the end of its order, the Court also expressed its desire to have a virtual tour of the government’s control room, a suggestion that was welcomed by Advocate General Lalit Kishore.
The directions were passed in a petition filed by law student Shivani Kaushik, who sought to highlight the issue of disposal of biomedical waste generated from equipment used to treat COVID-19.