Gujarat’s move to ease hospital building safety rules amid Covid was slammed today by the Supreme Court, which put the order on hold and said: “To save lives in the pandemic we are killing people with fire.”
A Gujarat order on July 8 had said no action would be taken against buildings without “Building Use Permission” till March next year.
“The Gujarat government notification goes against public health and safety. In the effort to save people in pandemic we are killing people by fire,” the Supreme Court said.
Eight Covid patients were killed in a fire in August last year at Shrey Hospital in Ahmedabad. In November, six people died at Rajkot’s Uday Shivanand Hospital. The police said the fire started in the ICU. In May, 18 people died in another hospital fire, in Bharuch.
The Supreme Court, which had ordered fire safety audits for hospitals across India after the fires, was furious at the state government for trying to relax safety rules for hospital buildings despite these incidents.
“There are hospitals that have been running for over 30 years without requisite permissions and safety measures. We are constantly only exempting developers who are violating laws, that is all we are doing in this country,” the judges said.
Justice MR Shah told the Gujarat government lawyer: “Have you seen the condition of ICUs? 7-8 beds in small rooms. We are not passing any orders on ICUs because this is an emergency situation we are in. But if you were to go by ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) rules then 80 per cent of the ICUs would have to shut down.”
Justice DY Chandrachud stressed that the government could not allow such illegal buildings.
“If the government allows such illegal buildings to function then it’s going to be very unsafe. You can’t have nursing homes that have five floors and no lifts. Or no proper exits. We will be permitting dangerous establishments to continue if we keep giving liberties like this,” said Justice Chandrachud.
“By granting exemption and stays we are conniving if we do this. We can’t cure all ills in Indian society but we must do what we can as judges to uphold the rule of law,” he added.
The Gujarat government had clarified that its notification didn’t mean that it was relaxing rules on fire safety compliance. But the court emphasised that Building Use Permissions were equally important and said it was appalling that many hospitals had yet to obtain them.
“It appears that by taking cover of the pandemic a benefit has been conferred upon the developers. The town planning and building use rules were made for protecting the health of people. We want compliance. If someone is running a nursing home for 38 years without building use permissions in that case the Gujarat government’s notification is equivalent to condoning gross irregularities and that goes against public health and safety,” the two-judge bench said.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who appeared on behalf of the victims of these fires, requested the court, “These hospitals have made millions during COVID. Can compensation be granted to these people who lost lives to these tragedies?” The Supreme Court said it would decide later.