The tiny north eastern state of Tripura has grabbed newspaper headlines in the region and attracted attention from national media, because of the alarming surge of its COVID-19 cases. When media floated stories on the mismanagement and lack of coordination among the authorities in controlling viral infections and inept handling of patients in the state's main referral hospital, G B Pant Hospital (situated in the state capital) it attracted the attention of the High Court of Tripura. The apex court of the state on Sept 11 directed the state government to submit an affidavit within September 18 providing detailed information on the infrastructure available in state-run G B Pant Hospital in terms of COVID treatment.
Taking suo motu cognizance of media reports on the plight of COVID-19 patients and their relatives in the hospital, a division bench, comprising Chief Justice Akil Qureshi and Justice Subhashish Talapatra, observed that time has come when the court needs to make inquiries on matters concerning the handling of coronavirus spread in Tripura and more particularly about health care facilities for those who have tested positive for coronavirus infection. The bench directed the government to apprise the court about the total number of coronavirus cases, condition of COVID-19 treatment centres with break-up of necessary infrastructure, availability of medicines, medical and paramedical workforce in such centres. It also sought information regarding the lack of communication between patients and their relatives and fund allocation and steps taken to improve the condition of state-run COVID-19 treatment centres.
The case would be again heard by the division bench on September 28According to the official figures available with the court, Tripura has 2,865 hospital beds across the state for coronavirus patients. These include district hospitals, COVID-19 care centres and COVID-19 hospitals.Of the 2,865 beds, GBP Hospital has 240 beds, which has recently been increased from 180.The High Court observed that GBP Hospital has 279 patients as on date, which is higher than the total number of beds available at the facility.At present only 19 ventilators are available in Tripura, and all of them are at GBP Hospital.In this situation, any patient with acute breathing difficulty, which is a symptom of COVID-19, will have to be shifted to Agartala, the court observed.Welcoming the High Court's observation, Advocate General Arun Kanti Bhowmik said, "Healthcare system was backward for half a century or more. We have lots of inadequacy and the government is trying its best to improve the situation, but it also has constraints". Incidentally, the state government had submitted an affidavit to the High Court about the arrangements and preparedness to fight the deadly virus. But perhaps the court was not satisfied with it and therefore sought further clarification and asked the government to clarify if the state has any complaint resolution system to address the inconveniences of the patients undergoing treatment.
The Advocate General submitted to the court that the state had started working since January last, even before the centre issued the first circulation in April. "It is a pandemic and probably the deadliest disease of mankind which we could never imagine. Our ancestors have never faced such a pandemic and this has no treatment in history," Bhowmik told the court.He also informed the court that a central team from Delhi, which recently visited the state observed that people do not wear masks, maintain social distancing and do not attend hospital on time. The Advocate General informed the court that the state government is trying its best to contain the virus, but it is not possible for the state alone without cooperation from all."People from the society have to come together and help the state. We seek support from the people, media and the High Court so that we can fight this deadly virus unitedly", Bhowmik said.He also informed the court that some quarters were trying to create panic by making irresponsible comments.
The High Court has asked the state to file an additional counter affidavit to clarify the 14 new queries which the division bench has raised namely number of lab technician appointments in each district, amount of fine collected by the state for not using a mask, Central Investigation Team's report, guidelines, conditions and how home isolation is enforced, bed per patient available in GBP Hospital, number of available ventilators, number of available oxygen cylinders, number of ambulances with oxygen and other facilities, frequency of helpline number's use and the consideration of the establishment of a special enquiry cell 24/7, information on whether there is any complaint resolution system, information on testing per day, information on positivity rate per day and finally the recovery rate per day The High Court has appointed advocate Somik Deb, as the Amicus Curiae. The case would be again heard by the division bench on September 28.