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SC asks Gujarat govt to table commission of Inquiry on hospital blaze

It had pulled up the state government for extending the deadline till July next year for hospitals to rectify the building by-laws violations

PTI | New Delhi |

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Gujarat government to table on the first day of its next assembly session a report of commission of inquiry headed by Justice (retd) DA Mehta which had probed two incidents of fire at hospitals in Rajkot and Ahmedabad that happened last year, in which 13 patients were killed.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and M R Shah told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to inform the Gujarat government about the view of the court, so that the report can be tabled in the house.

Mehta said that it will be appropriate that the report before being given to anyone is allowed to be tabled in the House or it will set a wrong precedent.
“The next session is scheduled to be held in September. I will request the government to table the report in the house as early as possible,” Mehta said, and sought a time of three weeks.

The bench said that counsel for victims of the fire incident have been seeking the report of the commission, which will not be appropriate to give unless it is tabled in the house.

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for some victim families, said that they be given compensation and the report of the commission should also be shared with them, so that they can file their response.

Dave said that the commission has prepared the report without even talking to the victims and they are not privy to the report.

The top court direction came while hearing a suo motu matter on the proper treatment of COVID-19 patients and dignified handling of dead bodies in the hospitals in which it had taken cognizance last year about fire incidents in hospitals.

During the hearing, the bench asked senior advocate Manisha Lavkumar, also appearing for Gujarat government, under what provisions this notification which extended the deadline by three months for hospitals to rectify the violations of building by-laws, was issued by the State and how can such notification be sustained.

She replied that under section 122 of Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act, the notification was issued and added that the government has taken a “pragmatic” approach in view of likely third wave of the COVID-19.
Under section 122, a power is vested with the state government to facilitate the efficient administration of town planning and urban development legislation, orders can be passed.

The bench told Lavkumar that by the notification building which did not have valid permission or were violating the by-laws or development control regulations, have been condoned and municipal bodies have been restrained from taking any coercive action against them.

“It has come down to this that there are no building control regulations in operation during this period in the state of Gujarat. It is suspended. It is a Windfall to developers and developers, which has no nexus to the pandemic,” the bench said.

On July 19, the top court had said hospitals have become like huge real estate industries instead of serving humanity in the face of COVID-19 tragedy while directing that ‘nursing homes’ running from 2-3 room flats in residential colonies which pay little attention to fire and building safety norms should be closed.

It had pulled up the state government for extending the deadline till July next year for hospitals to rectify the building by-laws violations, and said the “carte blanche” notification was in teeth of its order of December 18 last year and people will continue to die in fire incidents.

The top court had indicated that the state government will have to withdraw the notification or it will examine the issue.

On December 18 last year, the top court had directed all the states to constitute a committee in each district to conduct fire audit of COVID-19 hospitals at least once a month, inform the management of medical establishments about any deficiency and report to the government for taking follow up action.

It had said that COVID-19 hospitals, which have not obtained no objection certificate from the concerned fire department, should be asked to immediately apply for NOC and after carrying necessary inspection, a decision shall be taken in this regard.

The top court had directed that all states and Union Territories should appoint one nodal officer for each COVID hospital, if not already appointed, who shall be made responsible for ensuring compliance of all fire safety measures.

The apex court had last year taken cognisance of the fire incident at a COVID hospital in Gujarat’s Rajkot in which five patients had died.

It had also taken note of similar incidents which had happened earlier in other COVID hospitals.

It had taken note that Gujarat government has appointed Justice D A Mehta led commission to undertake enquiry with regard to fire in Shrey Hospital, Navrangpura, Ahmedabad, in addition to enquiry into the incident of fire in Uday Shivanand Hospital, Rajkot.

The top court noted that the Centre has also directed the states and UTs to update their respective local building bye laws/fire services, synchronising them in line with the ‘Model Bill on maintenance of fire and emergency service, 2019′, circulated by the Ministry of Home Affairs on September 16 last year.

The issue of Rajkot fire incident had cropped up in the top court which was hearing a suo motu case on proper treatment of COVID-19 patients and dignified handling of bodies in hospitals.