In a landmark judgment, the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court comprising Justice Ravi Deshpande and Justice Amit Borkar on Monday directed the Maharashtra government to conduct RT-PCR test of all frontline warriors including doctors, nurses, pharmacist and policemen working in Vidarbha with immediate effect. The court was hearing a petition filed by Nagpur-based NGO – Citizen Forum for Equality – that sought COVID-19 tests to be conducted on frontline workers.
The State government counsel argued that no policy was framed for frontline health workers and police personnel for COVID-19 testing. Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) Commissioner Tukaram Mundhe had filed an affidavit by resisting the testing of frontline health workers on three grounds:
- The health workers conduct their job with protection and hence there is no threat to them.
- If orders to test front line health workers were given, then there would be huge burden on the state exchequer.
- There is no express policy of ICMR to test them.
The High Court slammed the ‘ridiculous’ and ‘contemptuous’ stand taken by the NMC as per the fundamental rights of citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
The High Court relied upon two landmark judgments of the Supreme Court
- i) State of Punkab Vs Ram Bagga -1998-4-SCC-117
- ii) Navtejsingh Johar Vs Union of India -2018-10-SCC-1
It was held that the right to health and health care is the right to life under Article 21 of Constitution of India. The HC held that it was the duty of the state to protect the ‘frontline warriors’ and get them tested them under Article 47 of the Constitution of India.
As per the court, the entire frontline staff in Vidarbha is entitled to get tested for COVID-19 through RT-PCR method provided they express their willingness to undergo the test. The court said it didn’t agree with the state government as well as the Nagpur Municipal Corporation’s (NMC) stand that the guidelines of ICMR does not cover frontline workers for RT-PCR testing.
The court directed the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to frame guidelines for periodic check up of the frontline warriors of Vidarbha within one week as they are the ‘direct and high-risk contacts’ of COVID-19 positive patients. The court said that the frontline workers, who are performing a ‘herculean’ task, fall under the definition of suspected cases and hence should be tested. The court further said there’s no guarantee that the frontline workers using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits or wearing gloves, masks or coats are safe from COVID-19 infection.
The court said that the lives of frontline workers are precious as they are warriors who have been putting their lives at risk to save others. The court said, “We can’t afford to lose them. There can’t be any compromise on this.”
While advocate Dr Tushar Mandlekar argued for petitioner – Citizens Forum for Equality, Nagpur, Assistant Solicitor General of India advocate Ulhas Aurangabadkar argued for ICMR and Union of India. Advocate Sumant Deopujari argued for State Government and advocate Sudhir Puranik argued for NMC.
Check the High Court’s order below: