The Supreme Court was informed today that the State of Gujarat had collected fines to the tune of ₹80 to 90 crore from people who had violated COVID-19 safety protocol.
A three-judge Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Subhash Reddy and MR Shah was hearing the suo motu case concerning fire tragedies in COVID-19 hospitals across the country in the wake of two such incidents in Rajkot and Ahmedabad.
During the hearing, the Court asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to suggest measures for ensuring that guidelines pertaining to wearing of masks and social distancing are maintained to contain the spread of COVID-19.
SG Mehta submitted that higher fines could be the only deterrent to prevent violations of the protocol.
At this point, Justice Shah observed that it was “shocking” that Gujarat had collected crores as fine.
Mehta clarified that the total figures collected as fines range from Rs 80 to 90 crore.
The Court today directed all states to submit affidavits detailing the fire safety audits conducted at COVID-19 hospitals.
SG Mehta stated that 328 dedicated COVID-19 hospitals in the State of Gujarat all needed fire safety measures. He said,
“Fire safety audit committee was formed only for COVID hospitals. Same audit is being conducted to observe major fire safety requirements.”
Noting that several hospitals do not have a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from the fire safety department, Justice Shah asked the SG to ensure that such NOCs are obtained.
Justice Bhushan then pointed out how doctors working in COVID hospitals were working without any break from the past several months.
“They are doctors, not paupers. They have studied hard for this”, said Justice Shah.
SG Mehta has now assured that steps will be taken in this regard.
The Supreme Court had also directed that the Ahmedabad fire incident be inquired into by the same Committee that was appointed for inquiring into the Rajkot fire incident. The Centre has been asked to issue directions in this regard. This Committee is headed by former Gujarat High Court judge Justice DA Mehta.
Earlier, Justice MR Shah had questioned the Centre regarding the measures adopted to contain such fire tragedies.
“What kind of enquiry will be there by a committee who do not know about the incident in detail? You had already constituted such a committee. Now, this is the third committee headed by a retired High Court judge. Look at the attitude. Now another committee,” said Justice Shah.
SG Mehta had responded that had a discussion with Home Minister Amit Shah and that “steps have been taken.”
Advocate Aparna Bhat appeared for an intervenor who represents the wife of a person who died in a COVID-19 hospital at Ahmedabad.