In an embarrassment to the Maharashtra government, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court recently expressed its displeasure over the varying stands of the state on whether or not to provide free treatment to Covid-19 patients. The HC said it was shocked to note the differing stands taken by the state in two separate matters.
A bench of Justices Ravi Deshpande and Pushpa Ganediwala said it was unfortunate to note that the state had made different submissions through the Advocate General and the government counsel.
The bench has been hearing a suo motu PIL related to various issues related to Covid-19 crisis.
While dealing with the issue of providing compensation or free treatment to Covid patients, the bench had sought to know where the state stood on this aspect.
In one of the petitions, the bench had asked the state's advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni about the powers of the state to interfere in the management of private hospitals, nursing homes etc. to treat both Covid and non-Covid patients.
The judges noted that in that matter, Kumbhakoni had submitted that section 65 of the Disaster Management Act had already been invoked, based on which the state could requisition vehicles, premises and other infrastructure to treat patients.
The state, however, put forth a different stand, when a similar issue was raised by the judges while hearing the suo moto PIL. In the PIL, the state through senior counsel M G Bhangde, submitted that section 65 of the DM Act wasn't invoked.
The judges have opined that the intention in raising this issue was, if this section had been invoked, then section 66 came into the picture, which provided for compensation.
Notably, the bench has also prima facie opined that when the provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act are read along with Article 21 (right to life), "it creates a constitutional and statutory obligation upon the state to provide free of cost treatment to all the patients of Covid-19, admitted in private hospitals or healthcare providers and nursing homes," the bench said.
However, when Advocate Bhangde was asked to spell out the state's stand on this aspect, there was no response.
Meanwhile, senior counsel Subodh Dharmadhikari, appearing in one of the connected matters, submitted, "the stand of the state that section 65 of the DM Act is not invoked, was shocking, because the argument of the Advocate General was on the assumption that the power under the said provision we've already invoked."
Dharmadhikari further argued that the state had deliberately claimed that the said provision had not been invoked, to avoid paying compensation.
"It is unfortunate for us to notice the different and inconsistent stands taken by the state government in these two matters through different counsels. The stand of the AG in the earlier writ petition, which we have decided, was that the issue of Covid and non-Covid patients is inherently connected and cannot be separated; the object being common, to prevent spread of the epidemic disease," the judges noted.
"Here, in this suo motu PIL, the argument of Advocate Bhangde is that the issue of Covid and non-Covid patients has to be looked into separately and are not connected," the judges noted.
The judges further noted that since Bhangde has submitted that section 65 isn't invoked, "then we fail to understand as to how the resources, services, premises and vehicles of the private hospitals are requisitioned," the bench said.
The judges have ordered the state to clarify its stand on these contrary submissions on November 2.
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