HC seeks info from Maha govt, BMC on condition of crematoriums

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Mumbai, Apr 27 (PTI) The bodies of COVID-19 patients cannot be kept lying for hours waiting to be cremated, the Bombay High Court said on Tuesday, and asked the Maharashtra government and the BMC to inform it about the condition of crematoriums across the state and in Mumbai.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni said in several crematoriums there is a waiting period before bodies are cremated and relatives of the victims are forced to queue outside the crematoriums.

'The Maharashtra government and all other civic authorities will have to come up with some mechanism to address this issue. Bodies cannot be left lying like that for hours together. They are corpses,' the court said.

If there is a waiting period at a crematorium, the body should not be released from the hospital, the HC said.

Justice Kulkarni cited an incident in Maharashtra's Beed district, where 22 bodies of COVID-19 victims were stuffed in an ambulance while being transported to the crematorium.

The court was hearing a bunch of public interest litigations, seeking directions pertaining to shortage of Remdesivir injections, oxygen supply, availability of beds and other issues.

Advocate Simil Purohit, appearing for one of the petitioners, told the court that tokens are being distributed at crematoriums.

'There has to be some dignity in death. Making bodies lie around like that would also increase the spread of the virus,' Purohit argued.

The court took note of the arguments and said media reports also point out the ground reality at crematoriums.

'The condition of some crematoriums is such that furnaces are not working. The authorities should come up with some mechanism or set up alternate sites for cremating the bodies,' the court said.

The HC directed the Maharashtra government and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to file an affidavit on April 29, apprising the court about the condition of crematoriums across the state and in Mumbai.

The court also directed the Union government to file an affidavit on the supply and allocation of Remdesivir injections to Maharashtra.

'The Union government shall inform how much quantity of Remdesivir is allocated. Maharashtra is still on top vis- -vis the number of COVID-19 cases,' the court said.

The bench also sought the Union government's response on a recent incident where BJP MP Sujay Vikhe Patil reportedly procured Remdesivir vials from Delhi and distributed them in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra.

'This MP airlifted 10,000 vials of Remdesivir from Delhi and distributed it in Ahmednagar. Doesn't this amount to private distribution? How is this possible? Delhi itself is in crisis and facing shortage of Remdesivir injections,' the court said.

Chief Justice Datta said if in future the court finds any such person procuring Remdesivir injections from companies and privately distributing them, then 'we will take action'.

'There has to be equal distribution of the resources available. Everybody has to get it,' the court said.

The bench also directed the BMC to file an affidavit explaining how its helpline number 1916 and other COVID-19 war room numbers function.

Purohit further informed the court about the unavailability of ICU beds in Mumbai, to which the bench asked him to try calling the 1916 helpline number.

When Purohit called the number and sought an ICU bed for a patient, the operator gave him the war room number for the Worli division.

The war room number operator asked Purohit to send the patient's COVID-19 report.

BMC counsel Anil Sakhare said this was the process followed and a patient's report is perused to ascertain if hospitalisation is required.

Sakhare told the court that the BMC's dashboard on availability of beds in hospitals is updated every two hours.

The HC said it was not blaming anyone at this stage, but authorities should make full utilisation of their resources.

'Let us think positively now and move ahead with a positive approach,' the court said.

Sakhare told the court that the situation in Mumbai is improving with the number of COVID-19 cases reducing, and there is supply of oxygen and Remdesivir.

'In BMC hospitals and COVID-19 care centres, we do not ask patients or their relatives to procure Remdesivir or any medicine from outside. We provide it ourselves, Sakhare said.

The bench also permitted the Indian Medical Association (Pune division) to intervene in the matter and said the association could submit its suggestions on April 29.

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