The Supreme Court on Monday said hospitals have become like huge real estate industries instead of serving humanity in the face of COVID-19 tragedy while directing that 'nursing homes' running from 2-3 room flats in residential colonies which pay little attention to fire and building safety norms should be closed.
The apex court also pulled up the Gujarat government for extending the deadline till July next year for hospitals to rectify the building by-laws violations, and said the "carte blanche" notification was in teeth of its order of December 18 last year and people will continue to die in fire incidents.
“These hospitals have become like a huge real estate industry instead of serving the cause of humanity in the face of human tragedy.
"You (Gujarat government) have been extending the deadline, which cannot be done in view of our December 18, last year order. Hospitals are meant to provide succour to the patients in distress but instead they become money minting machines,” said a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah.
Hospitals have become huge industries at the time of this tragedy and “these kinds of nursing homes, running from two-three room flats in a residential colony, should not be allowed to work", it added.
“It is better that these hospitals are closed and the state should provide necessary infrastructure. We cannot allow these hospitals and nursing homes to continue working. This is a human tragedy which is taking place,” the bench said while referring to a fire incident in Nashik, Maharashtra, where some nurses and patients were killed last year.
The top court indicated that the Gujarat government will have to withdraw the notification, saying it appears to be in the teeth of its last year's order and sought explanation on issuance of the notification within a week.
It said that once a direction has been issued by the top court, "it cannot be overridden by an executive order and now you (Gujarat government) have issued a carte blanche saying the hospitals don't have to adhere to rectifying the violations till July, 2022", and people will continue dying and getting burnt till then.
It also took exception to the report filed in a sealed cover by a commission on the issue of fire safety in hospitals saying that “it is not a nuclear secret but just a report. Why in a sealed cover”.
It asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to look into the issue of notification and take it up with the Gujarat authorities and asked the state to file a comprehensive statement explaining the notification and details of fire safety audits which were conducted pursuant to the top court's order of last year.
The top court listed the suo motu case on proper treatment of COVID patients after two weeks.
On December 18 last year, the top court had directed all the states to constitute a committee in each district to conduct fire audit of COVID-19 hospitals at least once a month, inform the management of medical establishments about any deficiency and report to the government for taking follow up action.
It had said that COVID-19 hospitals, which have not obtained no objection certificate from the concerned fire department, should be asked to immediately apply for NOC and after carrying necessary inspection, a decision shall be taken in this regard.
“Those COVID hospitals who have not renewed their NOC should immediately take steps for renewal on which appropriate inspection is taken and decisions be taken. In event, COVID hospital is found not having NOC or not having obtained renewal, appropriate action be taken by the state,” it had said.
The top court had directed that all states and Union Territories should appoint one nodal officer for each COVID hospital, if not already appointed, who shall be made responsible for ensuring compliance of all fire safety measures.
The apex court had last year taken cognisance of the fire incident at a COVID hospital in Gujarat's Rajkot in which five patients had died.
It had also taken note of similar incidents which had happened earlier in other COVID hospitals.
It had taken note that Gujarat government has appointed Justice D A Mehta led commission to undertake enquiry with regard to fire in Shrey Hospital, Navrangpura, Ahmedabad, in addition to enquiry into the incident of fire in Uday Shivanand Hospital, Rajkot.
It had said that the state would extend all co-operations to the enquiry commission so that enquiry report is submitted at an early date and the appropriate remedial action be taken by the state.
The top court noted that the Centre has also directed the states and UTs to update their respective local building bye laws/fire services, synchronising them in line with the ‘Model Bill on maintenance of fire and emergency service, 2019', circulated by the Ministry of Home Affairs on September 16 last year.
The issue of Rajkot fire incident had cropped up in the top court which was hearing a suo motu case on proper treatment of COVID-19 patients and dignified handling of bodies in hospitals.