The Bombay High Court on Tuesday said that more than a hundred ventilators provided to hospitals in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra through the PM-CARES Fund turning out to be "defective" was a serious matter, and sought to know what action the Union government proposed to take.
Justices R V Ghuge and B U Debadwar of the Aurangabad bench, hearing petitions pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, also said that deans of hospitals are competent to decide whether a ventilator is defective or not, and their opinion must be accepted.
Chief Public Prosecutor D R Kale informed the division bench that the dean of the Government Medical College at Aurangabad received 150 ventilators through the PM-CARES Fund. The hospital used 17 units, 41 were given to five private hospitals in Aurangabad and 55 were distributed to other districts. The remaining 37 were lying unboxed, he said.
As per a note submitted by Mr Kale, all 113 ventilators which were put to use were found to be defective, and in every case, it affected the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
There were serious problems of "low inlet O2 pressure display" and the patients in some cases became "hypoxic" (a condition caused by low oxygen levels in blood) even when put on the ventilator, it said.
"We find the situation regarding dysfunctional ventilators, supplied through the PM-CARES Fund, to be quite serious," the judges said, and directed the Union government to submit a reply on what action and remedial measures it proposed to take.
"We appreciate the Central government giving the ventilators but if it is likely to be a health risk or health hazard to the patients then the same cannot be used. It is better that you (Aurangabad district authorities) write to the government and send them (ventilators) back," the court said.
The Union government should be told that the supplier company had sold inferior-quality ventilators, the court said. The Union government must state what action it planned to take against the company, it added.
"The company should not get away with this. It is the public exchequer's money," the high court said, adjourning the hearing to May 28.
During the hearing, advocate S S Bora, appointed to assist the court, said that political leaders are visiting hospitals to check if ventilators are functioning. Some of them then claim that they are running perfectly well while some others declare that the machines are defective, he said.
The quality of ventilators provided through the PM-CARES Fund has become the subject of political wrangling between ruling MVA coalition and the opposition BJP in the state.
The bench suggested that politicians refrain from carrying out such inspections.
"If deans of medical colleges and hospitals are saying they (ventilators) are not functional, then let us not pretend we know more than them. We express our displeasure at such indulgence by the people's representatives. This is likely to be more bothersome to the medical faculty than render assistance," the court said.
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