The Bombay High Court on Thursday asked if it was time for the Maharashtra government to think of imposing a "lockdown like last year" for at least 15 days to successfully contain the spread of COVID-19. A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni asked Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni if the state believed its current restrictions on the movement of citizens were working.
Do you think the restrictions are working, and that only people with urgent business are on the roads? it asked. "At least for 15 days if people stay strictly indoors, like last year, we may expect better results. Please advise your government," the high court said.
"We are not issuing any mandate, but do you think the government should consider a lockdown like last year?" the HC asked Kumbhakoni. Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Wednesday said the existing lockdown-like restrictions will be extended in the state by 15 days beyond April 30.
The strict curbs on movement of people and a host of other activities are in force since April 14. Essential services have been exempted from the curbs. The HC also directed the Maharashtra government to ensure municipal authorities conducted an immediate fire audit of all hospitals, nursing homes and COVID-19 care centres across the state.
"Again four people have died," the HC said, referring to the fire tragedy at a private hospital in neighbouring Thane district on Wednesday. "We do not want any more fires in hospitals. Please note, these are very difficult times," it said.
A patient is in "agony" and does not have the time to check if a hospital is safe, fire-compliant or not, it noted. "We do not want hospitals turning into Jatugrihas," the HC said, referring to the highly combustible house of lac that Duryodhana had built for the Pandavas in the "Mahabharata".
The HC was hearing a PIL, alleging improper management of COVID-19 treatment in Maharashtra and seeking directions pertaining to shortage of Remdesivir, the key anti-viral drug, and oxygen supply. The PIL, among other prayers, also sought action against black-marketing of drugs.
Advocate General Kumbhakoni and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's senior counsel Anil Sakhre told the HC there was adequate stock of Remdesivir and oxygen for hospitals in Mumbai and a safety audit of medical facilities across the state would be conducted. The court directed them to also look into the issue of preventing long queues at COVID-19 vaccination centres.
It directed the state to ensure that senior citizens, including elderly members of the Parsi community in the city, were not made to wait in long queues for the vaccine shots. The HC further asked the state to make arrangements for the safety of those working in crematoriums.
The bench also referred to an incident in Nagpur where an 85-year-old coronavirus positive man purportedly vacated his hospital bed to make way for a younger patient. The HC asked if the state should not have protected both of them. "The issue has gone viral on social media. In Nagpur, a man gave up his bed, his life. No doubt, it is a great sacrifice, but how does this reflect on your system?" the HC asked.
If the state had acted in time and made adequate arrangements, both the lives could have been saved. He (the octogenarian) would not have needed to make this sacrifice, it said. The HC also said it was not trying to pin the blame for the raging pandemic on any one state or municipal corporation, but it was the society's "collective failure" and that citizens must also act responsibly.
"You want to have everything. You want Kumbh, you want marriages…are you waiting for the third wave?" it asked. The court said if some people are bypassing the law, then they are "callous people".
It will continue hearing the plea on May 4.