The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court on Wednesday said that the Centre would be responsible for any deaths that occur due to faulty ventilators that the government has provided, reported PTI.

On May 25, the court had noted that at least 113 of the 150 ventilators provided by the Centre were faulty. The court had then also recorded the submission of the Government Medical College and Hospital in Aurangabad. The medical facility said it had rejected the ventilators as a patient had become hypoxic, a medical term to denote that the person was having breathing difficulties.

The court of Justices Ravindra Ghuge and Justice BU Debadwar was hearing a plea on the management of Covid-19.

“In short, we will not permit the experimentation of ventilators which have undergone major repairs, in treating the patients since this would be causing a risk/health hazard to the patient,” the court observed during the hearing, according to Live Law. “If unfortunately, the use of such ventilators results in the loss of life, it will be the UoI [Union government of India] which will have to take the responsibility.”

The central government counsel, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, appealed to the court twice to leave out the comment about deaths from the court order. But the court asked who would be responsible if the faulty ventilators caused deaths.

“Let the statement come from the UoI that we will not allow the state to use the ventilators until they are fit,” the court said, reported Live Law.

The lawyer added that the ventilators were provided for free due to the state government’s demand and that an expert team would inspect the equipment on Thursday.

The court also recorded the additional solicitor general’s statement that no deaths would be caused since the equipment would not be used to treat patients until the team of experts and the manufacturer ensure that the machines are not faulty.

A committee of two senior doctors from Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and Safdarjung Hospital will be sent to inspect and fix the ventilators at the government hospital in Aurangabad, reported PTI. The equipment will also be replaced if needed.

The court noted the Centre’s previous statement that the ventilators were not provided under the PM Cares initiative. It also highlighted that a 21-member team of experts of the Maharashtra government also found faults in the machines.

“We make it clear that we expect the Union of India to be firm with the manufacturer in the event of a supply of defective ventilators, and if we find it necessary, we would be directing the returning of the defective ventilators,” the High Court added.

The matter will now be taken up on June 7.

In March and April, 2020, the Centre had ordered more than 60,000 ventilators for nearly Rs 2,350 crores, according to information furnished by the government in court affidavits and as part of various Right to Information requests. Of these, 50,000 ventilators costing Rs 2,000 crores were funded via the PM-Cares corpus.

Apart from Maharashtra, at least four other states – Rajasthan, Punjab, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh – have publicly expressed their disappointment with the devices.

In May, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had indicated that the criticism of the ventilators had a political agenda as most of complaints came from non-Bharatiya Janata Party-led states.

On May 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered an audit of the ventilators. However, he called for health workers to be provided “refresher training for properly operating ventilators...if necessary”, reiterating the Centre’s original stance on the matter.

Also read:

Modi government spent Rs 2,250 crore on buying ventilators. Why aren’t they working?