The Bombay High Court on Thursday asked the Union government, State government, and the municipal corporation to consider bolstering critical care capacity in ways best possible while disposing of a plea seeking the conversion of railway coaches into ICU facilities.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice M.S. Karnik was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by social activist Naresh Kapoor. The PIL sought the reopening of hospitals, nursing homes and dispensaries closed due to departmental or judicial orders to meet the needs of COVID-19 patients and those with other ailments, and permission for private practitioners to prescribe COVID-19 tests.
The Bench said, The State/the Union/the Corporation may consider the desirability of adding to the existing ICU facilities in whatever manner it thinks best, in the event the situation worsens in future and the demand for more ICU units increases.
In the last hearing, the court had directed the Central Railway and the Western Railway to file an affidavit on turning coaches into ICU facilities. On Thursday, the chief rolling stock engineer of the Central Railway filed an affidavit, which said, Conversion of coaches to ICU is not possible without extensive structural modifications and major changes. These changes would need detailed design and can be done only in units with elaborate manufacturing facilities. Since the converted coaches were designed/meant to serve only very mild COVID-19 patients or as isolation centres, no ICU-type facilities were felt essential or are available in the converted coaches.
The affidavit added that creating isolation facilities in coaches is a temporary arrangement till the Railways becomes operational again. The current modifications are reversible as coaches have to be made fit again to resume passenger services. If major structural changes are carried out, immediate reuse of these coaches as normal passenger coaches may not be possible without major input, once the regular train services starts. Further conversion of non-AC coaches to ICU facilities may require major structural changes, which are practically not possible, the affidavit said.
The court recorded its satisfaction over the affidavit and said the present situation does not warrant converting coaches into ICU units. The Bench said the final decision on the matter should be left to the executive authorities and disposed of the petition.
The court said, We have no doubt in our mind that authorities shall not leave any stone unturned to preserve the lives of citizens despite these testing times, and devise ways and means for reaching out to people in distress by providing proper and adequate healthcare and medical treatment.