The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Thursday sought response from the Centre and the State in two public interest litigation petitions that sought production of oxygen in the State and strict implementation of the government order to allocate a minimum 50% of the bed strength in private hospitals for treating COVID-19 patients.
A Division Bench of Justices M.S. Ramesh and B. Pugalendhi observed that India was a pioneer in production of vaccines before COVID-19 and the world’s largest exporter of vaccines. Now, only two private manufacturers – Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech – were producing vaccines for COVID-19.
The vaccine manufacturing institutes owned by the government were not utilised.
When the government itself was having such facilities, they must be revived and put into effective use so that the government would be in a position to inoculate all people and need not bargain with private players at this difficult juncture.
The court asked the Centre and the State to respond to a series of queries. The court sought to know as to how many government-owned vaccine manufacturing institutes were available in India and details of production capacity. Whether BHEL-Tiruchi, could produce oxygen.
When the Central government supported reopening of Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi for the purpose of production of oxygen to meet the exigency, what were the steps taken by the government to work out the possibility of production of oxygen in BHEL-Tiruchi. What was the status of the Integrated Vaccines Complex in Chengalpattu, the court asked.
The court also sought to know as to how much India had spent on procuring vaccines for the past five years, including COVID-19 vaccine. What were the steps taken to revive the existing vaccine institutes owned by the government. The court sought response in the case on May 19 and directed the Centre and the State to file the counter affidavits.
The court also sought to know as to whether the State government was strictly monitoring the implementation of the government order to allocate a minimum of 50% of bed strength in private hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients. Whether the COVID-19 treatment fee structure fixed by the government was displayed prominently in private hospitals.
What were the penal provision or penalty contemplated for violation of the government order and how many complaints the government had received for violation of the order. What was the action taken. The court wanted to know from the government on maintaining a separate portal for details on bed capacity in private hospitals and the fee structure.
How many people were treated under the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme and whether government employees were entitled to take treatment for COVID-19 in private hospitals under the Tamil Nadu Employees Health Insurance Scheme. The court sought a response in the case on May 12.
The court observed that it appreciated the valuable services rendered by doctors, nurses, all health workers and other frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time exorbitant charges collected by some hospitals during the difficult times cannot be permitted. Both the public interest litigation petitions were filed by A. Veronica Mary of Madurai.