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'Somebody Has to be Made Accountable': Court Pulls Up Gujarat Govt over Hospital Fire that Killed 18

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The judges said the govt failed to take action on court's previous orders so that fire incidents do not occur again at these medical facilities.

The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday criticised the state government over the recent fire at a COVID-19 hospital in Bharuch, saying it was contemptuous on its part to not remain vigilant and avoid such incidents, and cited many orders passed in this regard in the past. A division bench expressed surprise over Advocate General Kamal Trivedi’s submission that the COVID-19 facility at the trust-run Bharuch Welfare Hospital, where the fire on May 1 killed 18 people, was set up “surreptitiously, without intimating the authorities".

Sixteen COVID-19 patients and two nurses were killed in the blaze. The bench of Justices Bela Trivedi and Justice Bhargav D Karia said that “somebody has to be made accountable" for the deadly fire.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by advocate Amit Panchal seeking a direction to hold government officials

accountable and punish them for failing to comply with the court’s previous directions related to fire incidents in

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COVID-19 hospitals.

“The anxiety of the court is what are you supposed to do to prevent such incidents in the coming days… Ultimately, what are the measures that you are going to take?" the court asked.

The judges said the government failed to take action on the court’s previous orders pertaining to all hospitals in

the state so that fire incidents do not occur again at these medical facilities.

“It amounts to the contempt of courts of all the orders passed by the courts in the past. Ultimately, it amounts to the contemptuous action on the part of the state for not being vigilant so that such incidents are not repeated

again and again," the bench said.

The court said the government’s affidavit, filed in the matter, only talks about letters issued by top authorities

but was silent on actions taken by lower-level officials pursuant to previous orders passed by the court.

Trivedi said the fire-hit COVID-19 facility in Bharuch town was set up “surreptitiously, without intimating the

authorities," and hence no-objection certificate (NOC) on fire safety could not be issued by local authorities to the new unit.

The court expressed surprise over Trivedi’s submission and said if the state was not intimated about a COVID-19

facility, how was it possible for it to compile data on coronavirus patients who are hospitalised.

The bench also issued notices to the Bharuch municipality, the trust which runs the hospital, its nodal

officer for fire safety and the government, and kept the matter for hearing after two weeks.

On the petitioner’s plea to make public, the DA Mehta Commission of Inquiry report on fire incidents at two Gujarat

hospitals, the government told the HC the report was submitted late in the evening on March 31 this year and could not be tabled in the Assembly as its session got over on April 1.

The Mehta commission had probed the fire incidents at two hospitals - one in Rajkot (November 11, 2020) and the

other in Ahmedabad (August 2020) - in which altogether 13 COVID-19 patients were killed.

“As per the provisions of the Commission of Inquiry, the report is required to be studied, prepared, and thereafter

tabled before the Assembly.

“There is no question of keeping the report under carpet or else we should not have appointed a commission,"

Trivedi told the court.

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first published:May 11, 2021, 18:11 IST