The Telangana High Court on Friday stayed a state government order that barred the entry of ambulances from neighbouring states without a scheduled hospital admission, The Hindu reported. On Friday alone, 40 to 60 ambulances were reportedly turned away.

The order came amid reports that two Covid patients died after their ambulances were denied entry at a toll plaza on the Andhra Pradesh-Telangana border. The patients were being taken to a hospital in Hyderabad, when they were stopped by the Telangana Police and were told that they did not have the required permission to enter the state.

A bench of Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B Vijaysen Reddy instructed authorities to immediately communicate to police officers deployed near the state’s borders that they were not to stop any ambulance coming from neighbouring states. The court also issued notices to the Telangana government and sought a response within two weeks.

The matter

The police in Telangana first began turning away ambulances coming from neighbouring states on May 11. This is despite there being no official ban on inter-state travel between Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Since then, hundreds of ambulances, including those carrying critically ill Covid patients on oxygen support have been asked to go back, The Hindu reported.

Social media is awash with videos of families pleading with the police to reach Hyderabad, which is considered a medical hub for the twin states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Some of the patients were asked to furnish a negative RT-PCR certificate or a confirmed admission appointment from a hospital in Telangana.

“We got strict instructions to allow vehicles with an ePass from Telangana police or State Health Department, but not from the Andhra Pradesh Police,” an officer posted near the state’s borders, told the newspaper.

Under the new rules, issued by Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar, patients coming from other states are required to have a prior tie-up with hospitals in Telangana for Covid admission. The hospitals, on their part, will apply in prescribed format to a control room set up for this purpose, according to The Hindu.

The applications will have basic details like the name of the patient, age, state, attendant’s name, mobile number, and type of bed tied up or care required. On receipt of the proposal from the hospital, the control room would issue a travel permit to the patient that would allow them entry into Telangana.

However, even those who had online permits issued by the Telangana Police were sent back by the police, according to The Hindu. On Friday alone, about 40 ambulances were turned away. The police officials cited severe shortages of oxygen-supported beds in Hyderabad, and asked the ambulance drivers to take the patients elsewhere.

What the court said

During the hearing on Friday, the Telangana High Court ruled that authorities should not insist with the patients or their attendants from other states to apply in a prescribed format to the control room.

The bench also clarified that in case a patient or attendant applies to the control room on their own, and not through a hospital, then the officers manning the latter must assist them in securing a hospital admission, according to The Hindu.

However, no authorisation from any control room would be required for an ambulance carrying a Covid patient seeking hospital admission in Telangana.

The bench added that the Telangana government “should not adopt any circuitous way of issuing fresh guidelines, circular or order putting pedals on inter-state travel of ambulances carrying COVID-19 patients”.

On Tuesday, while hearing the matter, the bench had remarked that the state government’s rule was “a blatant violation” of the Constitution. “You are denying medical treatment to people,” the court had said.