'The government allowed private hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients, so it should pay.'
Advocate S Jimraj Milton has filed a PIL in the Madras high court, pleading that the government should pay the medical bills of patients who are treated for COVID-19 in private hospitals.
His petition came up for hearing on June 9 when the court impleaded the central government in the case.
Milton, who has been practising in the high court since 2009, insists he is not a public interest litigant, but a public interest lawyer.
"Clause 4 of this government order says that people who go to private hospitals have to pay. We are challenging only this clause," Milton, below, tells A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com.
What do you find wrong with private hospitals charging a fee for COVID-19 treatment?
It is a pandemic. The state and central governments have imposed a lockdown for more than 80 days.
It is the duty of the State to take responsibility. They have created care centres. They did that correctly.
If you leave the citizens at the mercy of private hospitals, they will loot the patients.
Normally, for other diseases we are not bothered, but this is a pandemic.
The government allowed private hospitals to treat patients, so it should pay.
They booked hotels for doctors. They paid a nominal amount, and the hotels agreed.
Private hospitals will accept a nominal amount from the government.
The Epidemic Act and the Disaster Management Act empowers the government. It does not have to take over the entire hospital. It can take over a part of the hospital for COVID-19 care.
What exactly is your plea to the court?
We filed the case on April l7 after government order 174 came out which gave a list of private hospitals permitted to treat COVID-19 patients. Before that they were not allowed.
Clause 4 of this government order says that people who go to private hospitals have to pay. We are challenging only this clause.
Private hospitals need revenue to sustain themselves. If they were to provide free treatment, how will they survive?
Medical colleges have lots of space. You are taking only two floors. They will survive.
You have closed down so many industries during the lockdown. But hospitals are working.
Through discussions the government can get a few beds from the hospitals, not all of them.
You want government involvement in all spheres of life, or only in public health?
Already we are in a lockdown. The government is controlling our lives.
The Disaster Management Act has given the government tremendous powers. It has the resources.
During the pandemic the government has to be responsible for public health.
Other countries have insurance for their citizens. We don't have such schemes here. So they ought to do that, that is look after the citizens.
How do you see the central and state governments tackling the pandemic?
Actually the complete lockdown from March 24 was a mistake. In so many countries they didn't close down industries. They took precautions and health awareness was there.
They failed to adapt in accordance with the Disaster Management Act. The important thing is a national executive committee, a state level committee and a district level committee.
These committees should have experts from every field. This was not followed. This committee should be constituted and they should meet every month.
So many clinics were closed. If you get feedback from many people you can make better decisions.
Traders, doctors, industrialists should have been part of this committee.
The government has no comprehensive plan to protect health workers and frontline workers. Government workers have been infected and also journalists. They should be tested periodically and doctors and nurses should be tested regularly.
The central government's circular for frontline workers and doctors is there, but they are not following the guidelines.
The PPE used is of very poor quality. Non-Covid wards, labour wards are not provided PPE.
Which state do you think has done well, and why?
Kerala has done well. They actually utilised the lockdown, they planned everything. They made provisions for rations and vegetables for people during the lockdown.
They implemented the quarantine rules very well.
Some districts in Tamil Nadu, like Tuticorin, are doing this well. But there is no comprehensive planning here.
By impleading the Centre in your PIL, will any order passed by the court be binding on the central government?
My PIL is pertaining to Tamil Nadu, and the court order is binding within Tamil Nadu. The central government is also working here (so it was impleaded).