Days after it slammed Gujarat govt over Covid crisis, HC bench changed

The high court bench had termed the condition ‘pathetic’ and ‘as good as a dungeon or maybe even worse.’ Out of 764 dead, close to 400 of them have died at the city’s Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad alone.

high court

Days after a special bench of the Gujarat High Court made scathing criticism on the state’s BJP government for its inept handling of the COVID-19 crisis, the bench has abruptly been changed. In its order, Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court Vikram Nath has now replaced the bench comprising Justices JB Pardiwala and Justice IJ Vora with a new bench comprising himself and Justice JB Pardiwala.

Also Read: Ahmedabad civil hospital like a dungeon, condition pathetic: Gujarat HC

The change in the judges’ roster comes abruptly on the last working day of the week when it is due to hear the public interest litigation (PIL) on all issues pertaining to Covid-19. The PIL was being heard by a division bench headed by Justice Pardiwala, along with Justice Ilesh Vora, since May 11. Prior to May 11, the PIL was taken up seven times by the bench headed by the Chief Justice, since March 13, when the PIL came to be registered following the court’s suo motu cognisance of WHO’s declaration of Covid-19 outbreak as a pandemic.

The division bench of the Gujarat High Court had earlier this week come down heavily on the state government as the COVID-19 deaths in Ahmedabad neared 1,000-mark. Singling out the appalling condition of the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad for criticism, the high court bench had termed the condition ‘pathetic’ and ‘as good as a dungeon or maybe even worse.’ While 764 people have died in Ahmedabad alone, close to 400 of them have died at the city’s Civil Hospital alone.

The bench had said, “It is very distressing and painful to note that the condition prevailing, as on date, in the Civil Hospital, is pathetic… We are very sorry to state that the Civil Hospital Ahmedabad, as on date, appears to be in extremely bad shape.”

The bench had also slammed Health Minister Nitin Patel and Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Jayanti Ravi for poor monitoring of health care facilities.

Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Ilesh Vora had even warned the state government without mincing words, “We sound a note of caution. The Superintendent of the Civil Hospital and other authorities of the Health Department of Gujarat shall keep themselves ready to find our presence one fine morning on a given day in the Civil Hospital. This would put an end to all the controversies with regard to the functioning of the Civil Hospital at Ahmedabad.”

In an order on March 22, Justice Pardiwala’s bench had pulled up senior IAS officers, deputy chief minister Nitin Patel who also holds the health portfolio, and questioned the state government if it was “artificially” controlling the number of cases in the state by gatekeeping testing in private laboratories, among several other issues.

The court had also taken on its record an anonymous report by a medical officer listing out 22 problem areas in Civil Hospital as well as an anonymous letter by a resident doctor of Civil Hospital, highlighting the dire conditions.

Following the 143-page order, the state government on May 25 had moved a civil application on urgent priority, with Chief Justice Vikram Nath’s endorsement for urgent hearing the same day. The application had “endeavored” to clarify that the condition of Civil Hospital “was not as pathetic” as the high court observed in its May 22 order. However, Justice Pardiwala’s bench had said “it was too early to give a final certificate” and had said that the bench will visit the civil hospital “one fine morning” and put an end to all controversy.

Subsequently, from May 11 to May 15, May 18 to May 22, as well as from May 25 until May 28, a division bench of Justices Pardiwala and Vora was functioning, conducting four hearings of the said PIL. The new roster for Friday now includes two division benches, one headed by the Chief Justice along with Justice Pardiwala while another bench will be headed by Justice R M Chhaya, along with Justice Ilesh Vora.

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