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Delhi High Court directs Centre, AAP to present steps taken to tackle COVID-19 cases

The court has directed the two governments to present the status of functional and responsive helpline numbers being operated by them.

PTI | New Delhi |

Taking suo moto cognizance of a case where a video clipping showed a man struggling to get his mother hospitalised after she tested positive for coronavirus, the Delhi High Court has directed the Centre and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government to specify the arrangements made to deal with such patients.

Observing that the video “raises serious issues of public concern in the present day context”, a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rajnish Bhatnagar issued several directions, including making effective the helplines for reporting coronavirus cases, assessing their adequacy to deal with the increasing call traffic and providing ambulance facility to pick up patients.

It directed the two governments to present the status of functional and responsive helpline numbers being operated by them. The court also appointed an amicus curiae to look into the grievances raised in the video clipping.

“The amicus curiae shall also call the helpline numbers and report with regard to their effectiveness in providing help to the callers,” the bench said.

The Delhi government and the Centre have also been asked to respond to the grievances of  Dharmendra Bhardwaj, who has alleged in the video that “tall claims” of both the governments regarding arrangements for COVID-19 patients “are far from true on the ground”.

He said his mother was admitted in a private hospital on May 19 and she tested positive for COVID-19 on May 21. Thereafter, the private hospital asked him to arrange for a ventilator and bed in some other hospital, he has claimed and added that he went to several hospitals, but did not receive any help.

Even the government helpline numbers were non-responsive, Bhardwaj alleged in the video which has been taken on record by the high court.

The bench observed that a person, whose family or friend is found COVID-19 positive, they should be able to call the helplines to not only report such occurrence, but to also seek medical guidance and assistance, if hospitalisation is necessary keeping in view of the condition of the patient.

“The helplines should render meaningful and effective help to the callers. If the experience of Dharmendra Bhardwaj is anything to go by, it appears, that this aspect has not been adequately addressed by the respondents (Centre and Delhi government),” the court said.

Delhi High Court has directed the governments to “assess the adequacy of the helpline capacity and state whether the same is sufficient to deal with the present call traffic and the traffic expected in the foreseeable future, keeping in view the continuous rise in the number of cases being reported each day”.

The bench said: “The helpline numbers of the GNCTD should also provide guidance and information to the caller as to which hospital has beds available for treatment of serious COVID-19 patients, both in Government and Private Hospitals, particularly in the proximity of the caller patient’s location.”

The capacity created to deal with calls made on the helpline numbers; the nature of assistance rendered, and the log maintained for the same, if any, should also be placed before the Court, it added.

The court directed the Delhi government to consider providing ambulance facility for pickup of COVID-19 serious patients for hospitalisation, once a caller reports a serious case which appears to require hospitalisation looking to the condition reported.

During the hearing, Delhi government standing counsel (criminal) Rahul Mehra told the bench that there were around 10 helpline numbers and admitted that they were “found not to be functioning efficiently and instructions have been issued to set the system in order”.

He told the court that the same would be done within the next couple of days. Mehra also informed the bench that a mobile application is under development to give live updates of the hospital beds available in Delhi government hospitals and private hospitals, and other related information.

He told the court that the mobile application would be launched in the next couple of days.

“We direct the Central Government, as well as the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi, to file their status reports on all the aspects mentioned in the said video recording and those taken note of by us, before the next date of hearing,” the court said. It directed the registry to place the matter on June 3 before the bench headed by the Chief Justice as it deals with PILs.