TWO medical practitioners namely Dr Sneh Jain and Hans Jain have approached the Supreme Court seeking direction the Central Government to expeditiously formulate a comprehensive disaster management plan in form of a ‘National Plan’ under Section 11 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (“DM Act”) which is ‘tailor-made’ to meet the requirements of COVID-19.
They have filed an application to this effect in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Dr Jerryl Banait, a Nagpur-based doctor seeking direction to the government to urgently step up and issue WHO-approved personal protection equipment (PPE) to the medical fraternity throughout the country to protect themselves from being infected by COVID-19.
“Such a national plan will ensure uniformity, and efficacy of delivery of essential goods and services, while retaining the discretion of the State and Public Administration to take such additional measures, in addition to the common minimum requirements as contemplated under the National Disaster Plan”, petitioners say.
The ‘National Plan’, according to the applicants, shall be based on all possible preventive and remedial steps so that the Health Care infrastructure of this Country does not collapse, in the event of a major outbreak.
Further, the petition alleges failure of the State to devise a statutory national plan under Section 11 of the DM Act, 2005 has resulted in utter chaos, mishandling and confusion amongst its own and has led to the denial of access to essential goods and services to its citizens in different districts and tehsils, thereby resulting in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution which recognizes right to food, right to access to health care and right to equal access to essential commodities.
“It is submitted that acute shortage of proper and sub-standard PPEs, testing kits, and other equipments; exponential spread of this infection, coupled with the absence of National Plan on Disaster Management as envisioned under the Act in addition to the poor co-ordination amongst different Ministries and Departments of Government of India, States, Union Territories as well as District Administration to tackle COVID-19 to effectively combat, prevent, mitigate and contain the spread of COVID-19, there will be a disastrous and steep rise in the rate of infection resulting in spiraling of mortality rate”, the petition say.
In terms of a ‘National Plan’, the following measures/prevention will include:
Measures outlining the mode of providing treatment, recalibration of spaces, resources, and setting up of dedicated wards not only for the treatment but also for the general diagnosis of any person who is symptomatic but whose samples have not been taken
Measures to maintain a constant supply of Personal Protection Equipment to even those doctors who are first in the line of contact with a person who is asymptomatic
To address issues related to proper lodging and boarding facilities for patients, hospital staff, medical and paramedical staff, pharmacists and doctors and ensuring their safety.
To address issues qua shortage of Testing Kits, laboratories and to ensure testing kits are kept in reserve supplies and that the laboratories (including private laboratories and their staff) are well trained and equipped not only to conduct the tests but also to dispose of the samples so collected since they are a biohazard, capable of being spread at a sporadic rate.
To make adequate provisions for the setting up/ establishing of quarantine centres which are hygienic, and have provisions for essential items, such as food, water, toilets and bathing facilities and have provisions of running water supply and constant electricity.
To provide for measures to enforce better coordination amongst states and to provide for a periodic review in addition to setting up a live time review of hotspots.
To lay down an outline for measures to transport COVID-19 infected patients from smaller hospitals to larger hospitals and from one district to another, in the event of a mass outbreak.
To provide for measures to dispose of the dead bodies of patients who are infected with COVID-19 while ensuring due dignity.
To allocate enough resources and manpower for the development of treatment, research and development to find a cure to the disease, and to also permit or authorize the usage of drugs (with the consent of the patient) to be administered, which are currently undergoing the stage of approval but which promise to be effective in such treatments.
To provide for a phase-wise and step by step plan to contain the spread of infection at the hotspots where there is a community spread.
To take further intensive steps or measures in cases of severe spread of infection as are required, including testing, mobilization of resources, increasing of quarantine facilities, requisition of buildings, resources and people in the exercise of powers under Section 65 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 for the purposes of immediately containing the spread of infection. That in case of a drastic health emergency on account of the uncontrollable spread of infection, to requisition the staff, resources and infrastructure of private establishments providing health care facilities such as private hospitals and medical colleges and to also requisition the services of students currently studying in their penultimate year or final year courses of MBBS to cater to the patients.
To prepare outlines for the availability of resource professionals such as doctors, paramedical staff, nurses, testing agents, the laboratory professional and to ensure their safety at the workplace and on the ground.
To devise a strategy for an effective lockdown, a standard operating procedure for District Collectors, Superintendent of Police, local administration of every district so as to ensure uniformity, which is not in the nature of mere “Advisories” or “guidelines” but is effective orders and to also ensure periodic status compliance of the same by the District Administration.
To ensure that there is a uniformity in the categories of resources, goods and services which are exempted from lockdown, and to provide for a time slot for the public to purchase these goods and avail the services by following the principles of social distancing, especially in those districts and Tehsils where there are no provisions for providing online or telephone home deliveries.
To ensure that the enforcement of the lockdown is resorted to by the agencies keeping in mind the principles of least use of force, and to abjure from acts which may have the effect of jeopardizing the human rights of a person.
To ensure the availability of essential goods and commodities during the period of imposition of a lockdown.
To ensure the availability of grains, food, water, fruits and vegetables in the event of an extension of lockdown.
To address the inoperability of godowns, cold storage, thrashers, harvesters, seeds, fertilizers, manures, and other measures on account of which the Rabi crop is on the verge of decimation.
To increase the storage capacity of the government reserves of grains, and seeds, fruits and vegetables which are perishable in nature and to ensure that the same are delivered to the nearest available point of purchase or point of distribution.
To ensure sufficient raw materials for the purposes of making finished goods for human consumption.
To address the lack of transportation facilities to ensure free movement of goods, both essential and non-essential and to ensure that the crops, fruits, vegetables and dairy products are transported to the local Mandis and markets.
To ensure the mobilization of troops other than state or local police to provide for relief activities and to ensure their safety.
To work out a strategy to restore and revive various sectors that have adversely been affected on account of the lockdown.
To devise a strategy to ensure the lifting of the lockdown in a phased manner so as to ensure that the infection does not spread again in new localities or hotspots.
To provide for a standard operating procedure to be followed by the enforcement agencies to ensure that the least possible inconvenience is caused to the free movement of essential supplies.
Ensuring and supervising that every State Disaster Management Plan formulated by each State under Section 23 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 is to be in conformity with the National Disaster Management Plan, as well as every District Disaster Management Plan formulated by each District under Section 33 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 is to be in conformity with the State Disaster Management Plan and that all local bodies and authorities act in strict compliance with the disaster management plan. These plans must provide for clarity of roles of every member of the district administration, so as to avoid any knee jerk reactions by setting up committees at the last moment, and to make a flow chart of implementation with designated personnel to ensure that there is due accountability in the delivery of services. These plans must also provide for a communication chart and use live and 37 periodic reporting techniques so that the authorities are kept informed at all times, and may take suitable measures depending on the severity of the situation.
The petition has been filed through Advocate on Record (AoR) Mithu Jain and drawn by advocates Nipun Saxena and Serena Sharma.
Senior advocates Jaideep Gupta assisted by Advocate Nipun Saxena argued the matter for the petitioners today. The court after hearing senior counsel for the petitioners and the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta for the Central Government has reserved the order.