On Wednesday (May 12, 2021) the Bombay High Court (Goa Bench) observed that it is every state's responsibility to protect the lives of its citizens, emphasizing that if a COVID positive patient dies due to a lack of oxygen, it is an infringement of the right to life under Article 21.
Noting that patients are indeed suffering and, in some cases, dying due to a lack of oxygen supply, the Bench of Justice M. S. Sonak and Justice N. W. Sambre specifically stated in the State of Goa, "The Constitution says that no lives should be lost, if deaths occur due to a lack of oxygen, then it is a clear case of violating the fundamental right to life, and it is not acceptable." The Court also noted that the situation regarding oxygen supply at the Goa Medical College is quite dire, and that we have long passed the stage of determining whether or not patients are suffering from a lack of oxygen.
Notably, the Court also stated, "There is a corresponding duty imposed on the State to ensure that this life is not extinguished as a result of the State's inability to supply oxygen to these unfortunate victims of the pandemic. This duty cannot be avoided by claiming helplessness or citing logistical difficulties in obtaining and supplying oxygen."
Submissions made in front of the Court
All of the officials who appeared in court explained the problems with the supply of oxygen, particularly at Goa Medical College. They pointed out that, despite the fact that Goa Medical College has a bed capacity of about 700, there are approximately 950 patients admitted there, and that such excess patients must be administered oxygen via loose cylinders. Given the GMC's oxygen crisis, the Court stated that the State must take all necessary steps to ensure that such logistical difficulties are overcome as soon as possible and that no casualties result from a lack of oxygen supply to the pandemic victims.
Observations of the Court
Postponing the matter until tomorrow, the Court expressed hope that there will be no casualties at the Goa Medical College due to a lack of oxygen tonight, and even tomorrow, thanks to the Dean and the State Administration of which he is a part. Furthermore, accepting the conditions proposed by the learned Advocate General and directing the authorities to comply with such conditions, the Court waived the requirement of a COVID negative certificate for two drivers and one helper per goods vehicle until further orders were issued.
However, the Court made it clear that at each border, the police or other authorities will be required to scan such individuals with thermal guns to see if they exhibit any symptoms. Finally, emphasizing that the limited waiver is not to be construed as a general license allowing any person to enter the State of Goa without a COVID negative certificate, the Court stated, "We clarify that we have not ordered the sealing of Goa borders but, having regard to the unfortunate fact that Goa is one of the worst affected States, we have only directed that a COVID negative certificate be insisted from persons entering into Goa." As a result, all parties involved were directed to recognize that there is no need for unnecessary waiver in the name of protecting the economy's interests.