The Bombay High Court on Friday reprimanded the Maharashtra government for not spending the entire Budget allocated for procurement of drugs and medical equipment, PTI reported.

The sanctioned amount will lapse at the cost of the healthcare system, the court said.

A division bench of Chief Justice Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya and Justice Arif S Doctor was hearing a batch of pleas, including a suo motu public interest litigation that the High Court had initiated after the deaths of over 30 patients at government hospitals in Maharashtra’s Nanded and Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar districts.

“As per the information provided by the state, we prima facie find that the entire Budget sanctioned for procurement of medicines and equipment has not yet been spent,” the High Court said, reported PTI. “What is the reason behind this? This seems to be a new trend where sanctioned money lies unspent. But who is the ultimate sufferer?”

Advocate General Birendra Saraf told the court that the state government has appointed a chief executive officer for the Maharashtra Medicines Procurement Authority. He also informed the court that the process of issuing tenders to procure drugs and equipment has begun.

The bench asked the state government to inform the court of the steps taken by it to ensure that the sanctioned Budget is spent for procurement of medicines and equipment. It also asked the state government to explain why, in the past, it did not release funds entirely spent and how it was meeting demands raised by the hospitals.

“We expect adequate and appropriate steps are taken to spend the Budget in its entirety, otherwise after sanctioning the amount, if it is not used, it gets lapsed at the cost of the healthcare system,” the court said. “The procurement of drugs and other equipment shall be expedited and be provided to end users at the earliest.”

The court also observed that one-third of the posts of nursing staff and technicians in the diagnostics department of government-operated hospitals and healthcare centres in the state are vacant, The Indian Express reported.

The bench noted that such vacancies are bound to hamper healthcare services in hospitals and asked the government to fill the vacancies at all levels in an expedited manner.

Hospital deaths

In October, Dr Shankarao Chavan Government Medical College and Hospital in Nanded had reported the deaths of 31 patients, including 16 children, within two days. At the Government Medical College and Hospital in Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar, 14 patients, including two newborns, died within 24 hours between October 2 and October 3.

On October 5, the dean and the head of the paediatrics department of the government hospital in Nanded district were booked for the deaths of a woman and her newborn child. However, the dean, Dr SR Wakode, had blamed a shortage in manpower and medicines as well as a sudden surge in patients for the deaths.

Wakode claimed that the transfer of staff led to a manpower shortage at the hospital and made managing a sudden surge in patients difficult. He also alleged that the Haffkine Institute, responsible for procuring medicines for government hospitals across Maharashtra, had stopped the supply of drugs, adding to their problem.

A six-member committee set up by the state government to investigate the deaths had pointed to a lack of resources and manpower at the hospital.

Also read: A woman lost her baby in Nanded. Why couldn’t a new medical college near her home save her child?