HC asks Centre, Maha to file replies on COVID-19 management

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Mumbai, Apr 22 (PTI) The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the Centre and the Maharashtra government to file their respective replies by May 4 on the management of available resources, including hospital beds, Remdesivir drug, vaccines and oxygen, to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

The HC conducted a day-long hearing on several issues related to the management of such resources and during the proceedings, the Maharashtra government told the court about steps taken by it to tackle the rising cases of COVID-19 and provide treatment to patients.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni said no person in the state should be denied a COVID-19 test on account of the lack of a valid doctor's prescription for the same.

It also heard a bunch of public interest litigations seeking directions pertaining to shortage of Remdesivir and oxygen supply and urged for monitoring of black-marketing and profiteering allegedly taking place during procurement and distribution of COVID-19 drugs.

During the hearing, Advocate General (AG) Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, who appeared for the Maharashtra government, told HC that the state was conducting COVID-19 tests, making available hospital beds, maximising oxygen production and doing all that it could, do tackle the rising infections.

Kumbhakoni said Maharashtra was producing 1,200 metric tonnes (MT) of medical grade oxygen daily and importing liquid oxygen from other states to meet the daily demand of 1,500 MT of the life-saving gas used to treat critical coronavirus patients.

He said Maharashtra, the worst COVID-19-affected state in the country, was using almost 100 per cent of available oxygen for treatment of patients and leaving just minimum amount of the gas for pharma and other allied industries.

Kumbhakoni, however, said in the coming weeks, the state would need around 2,000 MT of oxygen daily and require the Centre's assistance in procuring oxygen then.

'We have limited number of tankers to import liquid oxygen currently. We have also ruled out possibility of air lifting liquid oxygen.

'We are using RoRo (roll onroll off) trains to transport cryogenic tankers,' Kumbhakoni said.

The AG told the bench that Maharashtra had received 2,69,000 units of Remdesivir, a key COVID-19 drug which is in high demand, from the Union government.

The BMC's counsel, senior advocate Anil Sakhre, said municipal hospitals in Mumbai had adequate stock of Remdesivir injections to last for the next few days.

Kumbhakoni observed that citizens required to be informed that Remdesivir was not a 'magic drug' and that it was to be taken only upon a doctor's prescription.

At this, the HC said the Centre and the state government must issue an advisory for citizens on availability and use of Remdesivir.

The court said there had to be a portal for availability of essential COVID-19 drugs.

'You should realise this is emergency situation. The situation is getting grim with each passing day,' it said.

Referring to news reports from last year which said that people needed to be cautious about the COVID-19 spread till June, the bench said, 'Had we not lowered our guards at least till 30th of June, 2021, this situation would not have been there.' The HC asked the state government about steps being taken to decongest prisons to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among inmates and jail staff.

The bench said the prison authorities must seek the relevant magistrate court's order on a case to case basis for shifting inmates from one prison to another.

It directed magistrates to decide within 48 hours, on applications made by the prison authorities to shift undertrials from crowded jails.

The HC noted that as per the state's data, despite the coronavirus-inducted lockdown, crime rate in Maharashtra had gone up in 2020.

However, crimes like 'dacoity, robbery, theft, rape, cheating, molestation and kidnapping had gone down drastically', it observed.

The HC directed the state government to consider the suggestions made by the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences on decongesting prisons.

The bench said it will pass a detailed order covering all relevant issues by Thursday evening. PTI AYA RSY RSY