Delhi COVID crisis: HC again raps Kejriwal government; asks ICMR why FELUDA, RAY tests not as popular as RTPCR



NEW DELHI: What is the use of beds and wards if there are not enough doctors, the Delhi High Court on Monday asked the Delhi government referring to claims that the new dedicated COVID facility in Dwarka — Indira Gandhi Hospital — did not have enough medical staff.

“This is the time when you need more doctors.

What is the point of having more beds if there are not sufficient doctors,” a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said to the Delhi government.

When the Delhi government said the issue of lack of doctors has never been raised before the court, the bench responded that there is a problem regarding lack of doctors and “lets not run away from it”.

The court said that when elections come, full page ads are seen in every newspapers, but now there are no ads in the leading english dailies with regard to requirements for doctors or nursing staff.

When the Delhi government said an advertisement on this was there in Dainik Bhaskar, the court asked “why not in the leading English newspapers?” The Delhi government assured the court that the process of issuing advertisements has started and soon it would be visible in all leading dailies, but some time was required.

To this the court said,”We have been granting you time for the last two weeks.”

The Delhi government said that it has been holding walk-in interviews and more are to be held in the coming days and sought time to place the details before the bench.

The court, thereafter, directed the Delhi government to place the details before it which shall include the data of beds — with and without oxygen and iCU and non-ICU — at the new hospital where 250 beds have been operationalised.

According to the Delhi government the hospital will have a capacity of 900 beds.

The court also asked the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) why the COVID detecting tests – FELUDA and RAY – developed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have not gained popularity like RTPCR.

A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli posed the query to ICMR, represented by central government standing counsel Anurag Ahluwalia, and sought its response to the same on the next date of hearing.

The court also asked ICMR to inform it about the efficacy of both the tests.

The query was posed after the court was informed by amicus curiae and senior advocate Rajshekhar Rao that not only do both these tests have an efficacy equal to or better than that of RTPCR, but they were cheaper and gave faster results in less than an hour.

Rao said that RAY was an improved version of FELUDA.

The court said that all the ICMR approved tests should be available to the general public, especially those which are cheaper and give accurate and fast results.

The Delhi government said that even though FELUDA and RAY (short for Rapid variant AssaY) tests are cheaper and ICMR approved, the gold standard was still RTPCR.

FELUDA test is based on CRISPR-Cas9 technology for diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2.

The Delhi government also told the bench that it has increased the daily number of RTPCR tests which in the past one week has averaged around 75,000 per day after it fell to below 60,000 last month.

The HC also directed the hospitals in the national capital to update the number of occupied and vacant beds every two hours, saying it was not difficult to do.

A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said the hospitals would be maintaining real time records of occupancy and admissions and therefore, it would not be difficult for them to communicate the same to the Delhi government or its nodal officers.

“We direct them to update it every two hours,” the court said after amicus curiae and senior advocate Rajshekhar Rao said the hospitals were citing manpower shortages as a reason for not giving real time updates of occupied and vacant beds.

The bench did not accept the reason given by the hospitals.

On the issue of beds, senior advocate Rahul Mehra told the court that the number of beds to be given by the central government in its hospitals here has gone down from 4,091 to 3,861.

He said that last year when the number of cases was four times less than what it was now, the Centre had given nearly the same amount of beds.

He claimed that there were hundreds of beds in the central government hospitals here which were lying unutilised.

The court, thereafter, directed the Centre to examine the issue raised by the Delhi government and to place before the bench the number of beds, category-wise, allocated for Delhi.

It also asked the Centre to inform the court about steps taken to augment the beds to be allocated for COVID patients in the national capital.

During the hearing, Rao said that updation of data of vacant and occupied beds on the Delhi fights corona website and related apps should be done at least thrice a day if not in real time.

He said the updated numbers should also indicate the number of people on the waiting list at each hospital.

The Delhi government was also directed to file a status report with regard to seizure of hoarded or black marketed equipment and medicines and orders passed by the SDMs for release of the same.

A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli was hearing a PIL seeking directions to them to declare medicines and medical equipment meant for COVID treatment as essential commodities under the Essential Commodities Act.

It said if something has to be done, “do it without waiting for orders from the court”.

The court issued notice to the Union Health Ministry and the Delhi government, represented by additional standing counsel Anuj Aggarwal, on the plea which has also sought setting up of fast track courts to deal exclusively with cases of black marketing and hoarding of medicines and equipment.

It also directed that its order against hoarding and black marketing of medicines and equipment related to COVID treatment be communicated to all subordinate courts and listed the matter for hearing on May 18.

The direction came on the petition by Delhi resident Manisha Chauhan has also sought appointment of special public prosecutors for dealing with such cases before the special fast track courts.

Advocates Sanjeev Sagar and Nazia Parveen, appearing for Chauhan, told the court that in the absence of a notification declaring medicines and equipment meant for COVID as essential commodities, these are being hoarded and black marketed.

They also told the bench that in the absence of any such notification, people hoarding or black marketing such items are trying to claim benefit of it and the subordinate courts appear to be unaware of the high court’s orders on this issue.

The petition has also sought initiation of contempt action against those persons who are engaging in black marketing and hoarding of medicines and equipment meant for COVID treatment in violation of the high court’s direction against such practice.

During the hearing, the Centre told the bench that the suggestion to fix MRP of the equipment was a good suggestion as it would prevent dumping of spurious imports on Indian ports and it would not discourage genuine importers.

It said it was looking into the issue.

The court, during the hearing, suggested that some incentives in the form of certain percentage of returns can be given to the importers at the time of fixing a price of the equipment and medicines.

It also said that if there is free flow of the imported goods, then the market forces and competition would determine the prices, if there was no caterlisation.

It said the government should also examine whether it can issue any notification to prevent hoarding and black marketing of the imported items.

To this, the Centre said that while an MRP can be fixed for sale of these imported goods, no time line as such can be fixed for selling them.

It also said that due to exemption from customs duties on COVID related equipment and medicines, a lot of people, including individuals, are importing them.

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