The Supreme Court on Friday paused the implementation of the Gujarat government’s order on relaxation of the safety rules in hospitals, reported NDTV. The court also criticised the state administration’s order, saying that it was trying to save patients during a pandemic, but “killing people with fire”.

On July 8, the Gujarat government passed an order that ensured no action was taken against hospitals that do not possess a “building use permission” till March 2022.

“The Gujarat government notification goes against public health and safety,” the Supreme Court said on Friday, according to NDTV. “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.”

Justice MR Shah asked the Gujarat government’s counsel whether it had seen the condition of the intensive care units in the state, pointing out that there were “seven to eight beds in small rooms”.

The judge added that if the state government followed the Indian Council of Medical Research’s rules, then 80% of the intensive care units would have to be shut down, reported NDTV.

Justice DY Chandrachud said that if the state government allowed such “illegal buildings” to operate then it would become very unsafe for patients.

He added that if the court allowed the implementation of the state government’s July order, then it would be allowing “dangerous establishments” to function.

“You can’t have nursing homes that have five floors and no lifts. Or no proper exits,” Chandrachud said, according to NDTV. “By granting exemption and stays we are conniving if we do this. We cannot cure all ills in Indian society, but we must do what we can as judges to uphold the rule of law.”

The court ordered compliance with the existing rules to ensure that the hospital buildings were safe, adding that the town planning and building use permissions were put in place to protect the public.

“It appears that by taking cover of the pandemic a benefit has been conferred upon the developers,” the court said, reported NDTV. “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.”

Fire safety

In July, the Supreme Court had criticised the Gujarat government for not following its directions on fire safety norms in hospitals. The court had then objected to a notification by the government effectively stating that hospitals did not have to comply with the fire safety norms till June 2022.

On December 18, the Supreme Court had directed the state governments to form district-level committees to carry out fire audits of Covid-19 hospitals at least once a month. However, the Gujarat government reportedly issued a notification exempting the hospitals from carrying out fire audits till June next year.

On November 27, the Supreme Court took cognisance of a fire at a Covid hospital in Gujarat’s Rajkot city, in which five patients died. The incident had cropped up during the hearing on another suo motu case on the proper treatment of Covid-19 patients and the dignified handling of bodies in hospitals.

Before the fire in Rajkot, eight coronavirus patients had died in a blaze at a private Covid-19 designated hospital in Ahmedabad in August.