Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court (HC) on Wednesday directed the Maharashtra government to pay compensation of ₹5 lakh to the legal heirs of 82-year-old Malati Nehete, a Covid-19 patient who had gone missing from the Covid ward of the Government Medical College (GMC) and Hospital at Jalgaon on June 2, 2020, and was found dead in one of the five toilets attached to the ward eight days later.
The bench of justice SV Gangapurwala and justice Shrikant Kulkarni was irked to note that for about eight days, the patient was missing and nobody had bothered to take it seriously and did nothing except filing a missing report.
“It is evident that neither doctors on duty nor staff nurses were monitoring the patient,” said the bench. “Having regard to the above factual scenario, we have no hesitation to hold that it is because of culpable negligence of doctors, staff nurses and para-medical staff on duty, patient Malati Nehate met with her unfortunate death,” said the bench.
Pratibha Shinde, president of Lok Sangharsh Morcha, and two other persons had filed a public interest litigation (PIL), highlighting the apathetic approach of doctors and other staff at the GMC at Jalgaon, in treating Covid-19 patients.
They contended that apart from lack of adequate doctors and para-medical staff, the authorities at the hospital had turned a blind eye towards the guidelines and protocols issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
Their counsel, senior advocate Gayatri Singh, highlighted the case of Malati Nehete, who was shifted to the government medical college from Railway Hospital in Bhusawal on June 1, 2020. Her swabs were taken for Covid-19 testing, however, initially, she was admitted to the non-Covid ward. The 82-year-old, who required support for all her movements, was shifted to Covid ward after her rest report showed her positive for the deadly virus. On June 2, she went “missing” and was found dead in one of the five toilets attached to the Covid ward after eight days.
Additional government pleader PS Patil had opposed their prayer for compensation of ₹50 lakh to the kin of the 82-year-old on the grounds that her family members are educated and could avail appropriate legal remedy.
As regards other prayers for inquiry and action for negligence and dereliction of duty, Patil pointed out that inquiry was already initiated and an offence was registered with the local police station in connection with the incident.
The bench, however, overruled the objection, saying the HC, being the protector of civil liberties of citizens, has not only the power and jurisdiction but also an obligation to grant relief to the victims or heirs of the victim whose fundamental rights are flagrantly infringed and call upon the state to repair the damage, irrespective of individual remedy available to them.
HC has also directed the state to take appropriate action against the erring hospital staff, based on the report of a three-member committee.