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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Covid-19: HC green lights Delhi Govt's high-powered Panel to probe ‘oxygen deaths'


Clearing the decks for a high-powered committee set up by the AAP government to look into deaths by alleged medical oxygen shortage during the second wave of Covid-19, Delhi high court on Tuesday said it saw no difficulty in such a probe.

The court, dealing with a plea to operationalise the committee, which was earlier put on hold by the LG, took note of the stand of the state government that the committee will not attribute any fault to any hospital and any compensation will be paid and absorbed by the government alone.

It further recorded that according to the AAP government, the criteria for determining compensation will be open to scrutiny and its task would not overlap with that of a sub-group constituted by Supreme Court on allocation and utilisation of oxygen.

Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh, while dealing with the LG’s objections, observed that the “intent of the government in issuing the May 27 order (constituting the panel) is not to grant an ex gratia amount to a Covid-19 victim” but to “examine each complaint/representation on the death of a Covid-19 patient due to lack of oxygen.”

The HC pointed out that the Delhi government has “expressed its intention to reinstate” the committee but “due to the difference in opinion (with regard to the scope of its mandate) between the council of ministers and the LG, the stalemate is continuing.”

During the course of the hearing, the bench said that it will “permit it (committee) to go on” only if the Delhi government clarifies that the compensation would be paid by them without fixing any liability on the hospitals.

“The issue here is a legal issue. Can you determine a fault-based liability by a committee (and) fix liability on a third party, which not only puts a financial liability but tarnishes professional reputation,” the court questioned, adding that by claiming to fix liability, the government would enter the domain of the judiciary and medical council. “You can't do it,” it added.

Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, who was representing the Delhi government, clarified that the committee was only a “fact-finding committee” which would not attribute any fault or negligence to a hospital and “compensation was purely going from the government”.

The senior lawyer stated that the committee would, after calling for records and documents from the hospital concerned as well as seeking an explanation, examine a complaint/representation received by it from the family of a deceased patient and pass a reasoned order.

Additional solicitor general Sanjay Jain, representing the LG, urged the court to defer passing any order on the constitution of the committee and await guidelines on the grant of a uniform ex gratia compensation by the NDMA, pursuant to the apex court's order.

The HC responded that the Supreme Court-appointed committee were seized of the issue at the “macro level” while the committee proposed to look at “micro situations” while giving its go-ahead.
It was hearing a plea by Riti Singh Verma, who prayed for a direction to the Delhi government to operrationalise the committee and also refer her case to it for grant of compensation.

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