On Wednesday, 12th May, the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court observed that it is every State’s responsibility to protect the lives of its citizens. The Bench noted that if anyone dies due to lack of oxygen, this will tantamount to the breach of Article 21—the Bench comprising Justices M.S. Sonak and N.W. Sambre remarked, “The Constitution says that no life should be lost; if deaths occur due to wanting of oxygen, then it is a clear case of violating the fundamental right to life, and it is not acceptable.”
The Bench observed that the circumstances in the State were quite grim as far as the supply of oxygen to the Goa Medical College was concerned and that the time to determine whether the patients were suffering from lack of oxygen or not had long passed. Highlighting the responsibility of States, the Bench stated, “There exists a corresponding duty of the State to ensure that life is not extinguished on account of inability on the part of the State to supply oxygen to the unfortunate victims of the pandemic. This duty can neither be avoided by pleading helplessness nor by putting forth logistical difficulties in sourcing and supplying oxygen”.
The supply of oxygen at the Goa Medical College is a matter of concern; officials present before the Court explained the issues involved. The Court was apprised about the fact that the Goa Medical College had a capacity to admit 700 patients but, in reality, had 950 patients admitted. And oxygen to these excess patients had to be provided through loose cylinders. Taking note of this oxygen crisis at the Goa Medical College, the Court told directed the State to take the necessary steps to ensure that such logistical difficulties were solved at the earliest so that no casualty took place any further.
As per the affidavit submitted by Dr. Shivanand Bhandekar, Medical Superintendent and the Dean of the Goa Medical College, it was noted that there was no problem with the availability and supply of Liquid Medical Oxygen, which was stored in a tank with a capacity of 20,000 liters at the Super Speciality Block. But, this LMO could not be directly used for the main Goa Medical College building, which was relying on the supply of oxygen via cylinders that were brought on trolleys and as loose cylinders. It was seen that at times, there had been a problem with the supply of these trolleys and loose cylinders, as a result of which, there had been instances when the supply of oxygen to the patients dropped, and lives were lost.
During the hearing, the Bench expressed its hope of not learning about any casualty at the Goa Medical College because of a lack of oxygen that night and thereafter, with the collective efforts of the Dean and the State administration of which he was a part. In addition to this, the Court also waived the requirement of a COVID negative certificate to two drivers and one helper per goods vehicle until further notice. Nevertheless, it was categorically stated by the Bench that, at each of the borders, the police or other concerned authorities would have to scan such individuals with thermal guns to determine whether they had any symptoms or not.
The Bench added, “If they display the symptoms, then, the police authorities or the other authorities should deny access to such persons within the State of Goa.” With this, the Court also clarified that this limited waiver was not considered as general license for permitting any persons to enter the State of Goa, without having the COVID negative certificate. The Court said, “We clarify that we have not ordered the sealing of Goa borders but having regard to the unfortunate fact that Goa is one of the worst affected States, we have only directed that a COVID negative certificate should be insisted from persons entering into Goa.”
The Court concluded, stating, “No doubt, the importance of the economy can never be undermined, but at this stage at least, the priority and emphasis shall have to be on issues of health and survival. Ultimately, the economy is for the people and not the other way round. Once the position improves, obviously the focus can and perhaps will have to shift on the economy”.
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