Covid deaths due to oxygen shortage no less than genocide: Allahabad High Court

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The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday directed the district magistrates (DMs) of Lucknow and Meerut to verify news of Covid-19 patients dying due to oxygen shortage. The court observed that “death of Covid patients just for non-supplying of oxygen to the hospitals is a criminal act and not less than a genocide” by those responsible for ensuring the continuous procurement and supply of medical oxygen.

A Bench of Justices Siddhartha Varma and Ajit Kumar asked “how can we let people die in this way” when medical science had advanced so much that heart transplantations and brain surgeries were now a reality. The judges made the observations while hearing a PIL, and said they “find it necessary to direct for immediate remedial measures to be taken by the government”.

The court asked the DMs to look into the news reports within 48 hours and submit their reports by Friday, the next date of hearing. The officials were also instructed to appear for the hearing.

The court said stories of oxygen shortage going viral on social media were showing “harassment meted out” by the district administrations and the police “to those poor citizens who were begging for an oxygen cylinder to save the life of their near and dear ones”.

The order mentioned news reports about the deaths of five patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a new trauma centre at the Meerut Medical College on Sunday and fatalities at the Sun Hospital in Lucknow. The court also mentioned reports on similar deaths in another private hospital in Meerut, where the facility took its “hands off the admitted Covid patients only for the reason that oxygen supply was not made even after demand”.

“We find these news items showing a quite contrary picture to one claimed by the Government that there was sufficient supply of oxygen,” read the order.

The court said it appreciates that the government ultimately realised the importance of imposing a lockdown, and added that “any slackness on the part of the Election Commission” on the issue of reported deaths of officials on poll duty during panchayat polls “will not be tolerated”.

On April 27, the court had taken cognizance of a news report published in Hindi daily Amar Ujala about 135 teachers, “shiksha mitras” and investigators on election duty who allegedly succumbed to Covid-19.

On Tuesday, the counsel of the State Election Commission (SEC) told the judges that DMs had been asked to inquire into the reported deaths. Advocate Tarun Agrawal, the SEC’s lawyer, submitted that the poll body “was not shirking away from its responsibility to comply with the order and sought time”.

The court said it was informed that during the counting of votes for the gram panchayat polls, Covid protocols and guidelines “were definitely flouted”. The judges said people gathered in “huge numbers at the counting centres and both the Election Officers and Police administration had completely failed to ensure the compliance of Covid guidelines”.

The court directed the SEC to produce before it CCTV footage from designated counting areas and centres in print and in a pen drive by the next hearing date. The CCTV footage was sought from counting centres in Lucknow, Prayagraj, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Ghaziabad, Meerut, Gautam Buddh Nagar (Noida) and Agra. The judges also asked the SEC to come up with an action plan if it was found that Covid protocols were flouted.

Meanwhile, the state government’s lawyer prayed for two more days to submit an affidavit that the court had sought in an order on April 27. In the order, the court asked the state administration to submit details of Covid facilities while issuing a series of directions.



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