Bombay HC suggests temporary ban on sale of cigarettes, bidis during pandemic

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Suggesting a temporary ban on sale of cigarettes and bidis during the pandemic, the Bombay High Court on Thursday sought a response from the Centre and the state government on the same along with the data on Covid-19 patients who were addicted to smoking. The court said it was of the opinion of considering such a ban by the governments as the Covid-19 virus affects the lungs and weak lungs are severely affected.

The court also directed the Maharashtra state government to ensure all possible steps to make Remdesivir drug available to Covid-19 patients, stating that the patient or relatives shall not be made to run from pillar to post’ to find out or locate the drug.

While the Court heard the PIL seeking effective Covid-19 management at length on Thursday, the detailed order was made available on Friday morning.

“We are equally concerned as to whether the persons who are affected by Covid -19 and have become critical are persons smoking cigarettes and bidis, as it is by now well-known that the Covid-19 virus affects the lungs and weak lungs are affected more severely,” HC noted.

Observing that no information on effect of Covid-19 on smokers was available in public domain from Centre or state government, the bench added, “If this is an issue which would matter and is fatal to the health of the citizens, we are of the opinion that measures would be required to be taken to ban sale of cigarettes and bidis during the pandemic time.”

The HC said every infected person is undergoing ‘stress and trauma,’ and that the suffering of those who are critically ill cannot be described.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni passed directions on public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Mumbai-based lawyer Sneha Marjadi and argued through advocates Simil Purohit and Arshil Shah, alleging that insufficient facilities are leading to violation of fundamental rights of the people, including right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The petitioner raised concerns over scarcity of Remdisivir drug, shortage of oxygen supply, Covid-19 bed management and delay in conducting RT-PCR or Rapid Antigen Tests to detect Covid infection.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni for the state government submitted that shortage of Remdesivir drug in market is likely to reduce by April 25 and the state will be in a position to get about one lakh vials per day, for nearly 10 % of active patients who require the drug as per medical standards.

Stating that indiscriminate use of the drug at the insistence of patients being a ‘contributory factor’ towards shortage, Kumbhakoni said, “Presently the Covid-19 infection has been found more amongst the higher middle class and higher income class of patients. Under misconception as to the effect and the use of this drug, a sudden steep rise in the demand of this drug has arisen.”

The HC expressed ‘pain over scarcity’ of Remdesivir drug and said that it would not have arisen except for sudden surge in cases due to the second wave, ‘which was possibly not in anticipation about two months back.’

The bench ordered that Remdesivir should be made available to the patients directly at the hospital or a covid centres and said, “To ensure the availability of the drug a Nodal Agent with the helpline number with adequate staff at its disposal to undertake the supply of the drug at the required hospital/Covid centre shall be appointed,” it said.

The Court noted that it would be an ‘absolute obligation’ of the state government to keep the helpline number in operation all over Maharashtra for 24 hours.

The bench passed various other directions to the state government including a portal and a helpline number for availability of beds in all hospitals so that any patient is not deprived of treatment for want of bed’. The Court also directed the state government to consider permissions for more Covid testing laboratories and asked it to make a decision within a week. Directing the state government to ensure measures for increasing and regulating oxygen supply to all hospitals, HC asked it to notify a mechanism to identify specific needs of hospitals at different places.

The judges also emphasized on the need to exercise the duty by every citizen towards society at large or strictly adhering to prescribed safety measures and said that as the same was neglected, it became one of the reasons for the ‘second wave,’ and if not followed further, it would be difficult to control the outbreak.

HC will hear the PIL next on May 4.



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