Nearly half of around 1,130 COVID-19 designated hospitals across municipal corporations and municipalities in six Gujarat districts do not possess a valid fire safety NOC from the local authorities, officials said in affidavits submitted in the High Court on Monday.
The affidavits were submitted before a Gujarat HC division bench of Justices Bela Trivedi and Bhargav D Karia in connection with a PIL filed by Advocate Amit Panchal on measures taken by the government after fire incidents in the last few months in several COVID-19 hospitals in the state that caused loss of lives.
On May 1, as many as 18 people, including 16 COVID-19 patients were killed, in a devastating fire at a hospital in Bharuch town. Eight COVID-19 patients had died in a massive fire in a private hospital in Ahmedabad on August 6 last year.
Similarly, five patients were killed when a fire broke out at a private hospital in Rajkot on November 27 last year.
Hospitals and other establishments are required to obtain fire safety NOCs (no objection certificates) from the competent authorities to run their operations. The NOC reflects adherence to fire safety norms laid down by the government.
In the affidavits, the regional commissioners of municipalities falling under Ahmedabad,Vadodara, Bhavnagar, Surat, Rajkot and Gandhinagar districts stated that there are 380 COVID-19 designated hospitals in their respective areas that do not have valid and subsisting fire safety NOCs.
These include 93 (out of 109) hospitals in (municipalities) in Ahmedabad district, 71 (out of 98) in Vadodara, 36 (out of 38) in Bhavnagar, 22 (out of 39) in Surat, 123 (out of 170) in Gandhinagar and 32 in Rajkot district (which did not furnish the total number of such hospitals), as per the affidavits.
In the six municipal corporations of Jamnagar, Junagadh, Gandhingar, Vadodara, Rajkot and Ahmedabad (not covering municipalities), out of 673 COVID-19 designated hospitals, 178 do not have fire NOCs, officials said in their affidavits.
Strikingly, out of 137 COVID-19 designated hospitals within the Vadodara Municipal Corporation limits, not a single facility has received a fire safety NOC from the authorities, the documents showed.
Twelve out of 27 such hospitals in Junagadh and 29 out of 88 in Rajkot Municipal Corporation areas also do not have a valid fire NOC, the affidavits filed by them reveal.
Surat and Bhavnagar municipal corporations did not specify the number of COVID hospitals in their affidavits.
Thus, taking into accounting both the municipalities and municipal corporations, out of around 1,130 COVID-19 hospitals, 550 do not have valid fire NOCs, as per the affidavits.
In their replies, the municipal corporations said notices are being issued to the hospitals instructing them to promptly take necessary actions.
If they fail to do so, action would be taken against them in accordance with the provisions of the Gujarat Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2013, they said.
"Vital issue connected with the COVID hospitals is continuous and uninterrupted usage of ventilators, ACs, and other electrical equipment resulting in overheating and overloading.
"It is submitted that it occasionally causes accidents in spite of time to time instructions given to the concerned owners, doctors and office-bearers of the hospitals," the documents said.
"It is stated that the presence of excess oxygen and sanitizers in ICUs causes spread of fire in case of an accident.
"Staff members of COVID hospitals are given required training repeatedly for operation of the fire system and evacuation in case of such a fire incident," they said.
In an affidavit filed on behalf of the state government, Joint Secretary (Urban Development and Urban Housing Department) RH Vasava said the government faces a dilemma over the issue.
"The government is faced with the predicament of saving hundreds of lives on a daily basis by permitting fully equipped (COVID) hospitals, with ventilators, oxygen support, doctors, nurses, etc to continue with the most stringent monitoring, or opting for closure of these hospitals for want of fire NOC," he said.
Mr Vasava said the Fire and Emergency Services were entrusted to undertake inspection and site visits, and certain proactive measures to ensure safety in all COVID-19 hospitals.
For the present, steps have been taken to augment fire safety measures to the extent possible, he said.
Since May 1, 2021, nine fire incidents have taken place in COVID-19 hospitals with fire NOCs, but due to training of on-duty staff, no life was lost and only minor damage was caused to property, Mr Vasava said.
The hearing on the PIL will take place on Tuesday.