The Supreme Court Wednesday sought “detailed” response from the Centre as well as states on issues ranging from adhering to COVID-19 guidelines on wearing of face masks and social distancing norms to implementation of fire safety guidelines in hospitals and nursing homes across India. The top court was hearing a suo motu case registered by it to ensure proper treatment of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and dignified handling of dead bodies there.
Recently, it also took cognisance of the fire incident in a designated COVID-19 hospital in Gujarat’s Rajkot in which several patients had died, raising the issue of lack of proper fire safety measures in hospitals across the country. A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the Gujarat government, to file detailed affidavits within three days on the issues such as enforcing of COVID-19 guidelines and fire safety measures in hospitals and nursing homes.
The bench, also comprising Justices R S Reddy and M R Shah, directed the states as well to file affidavits by Friday on steps taken on these issues and fixed the suo motu case for hearing on December 14. The bench directed that the Justice (Retd.) DA Mehta committee will probe the Ahmedabad fire incident, besides the fire tragedy at a COVID-19 hospital at Rajkot which is already being inquired into by the panel.
At the outset, the law officer said he would request the Gujarat government to appoint a judge to probe the fire incidents in hospitals if the apex court suggest any name to head such an inquiry. “It is upon the discretion of this court,” Mehta said.
Mehta said the Centre has asked all the states and Union Territories (UTs) to send status report on the implementation of fire safety guidelines to prevent recurrence of fire incidents in hospitals and nursing homes. A detailed report on fire safety would be prepared after getting the inputs from states, he said.
The bench then asked about the fire safety audit of Gujarat and hospitals there and said as to how many nodal officers have been appointed. It then enquired about the steps taken to enforce the COVID-19 guidelines on wearing of face masks in public and adhering to the social distancing norms.
“You file a detailed affidavit giving all steps taken,” it said. Earlier, the apex court had said that people are violating with impunity the COVID-19 guidelines on wearing of face masks at public places and are not adhering to social distancing norms.
It had pulled up the authorities for not ensuring strict compliance of these measures to contain coronavirus and had asked the Centre and states to give suggestions so that appropriate directions can be issued to implement these guidelines. The top court had however stayed the Gujarat High Court direction to send people caught without wearing masks to do community service at the COVID-19 patient care facilities.
It had taken note of the submissions of the Gujarat government that the order was harsh, having serious repercussions on health of the violators. The top court had asked the Gujarat government to strictly enforce the COVID-19 guidelines.
The apex court had also expressed concern over the spurt in number of COVID-19 cases across the country.
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