The Delhi high court on Friday quashed a directive by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government reserving 80% of beds in Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital for residents of the national capital, stating that the notification was impermissible under the constitution and “suffers from various vices”.

A bench comprising chief justice Rajendra Menon and justice V Kameswar said the notification sought to create what it described as a class within a class.

“…..we have no hesitation in holding that the impugned circular suffers from various vices which are not permissible under the Constitution; the circular classifies identically situated persons differently for the purpose of granting them medical facility without any rational basis …we cannot uphold such a classification,” the bench said.

The court directed the state government to provide medical facilities at the hospital to all citizens as was being done before the enforcement of the notification.

The court’s ruling came on plea by a non-government organisation (NGO), Social Jurist, that challenged the directive reserving facilities for the residents of Delhi on a pilot basis.

The plea ,filed through advocate Ashok Agarwal, said the notification deprived non-Delhi residents of treatment at the hospital.

GTB Hospital, established in 1987 as a 350-bed facility that has since expanded to 1,700 beds, is the only Delhi government tertiary care hospital in East Delhi, catering to the local population as well as patients from adjacent states, according to its website. The hospital provides round-the-clock emergency services.

The order reserving 80% of beds in the facility for local
residents took effect in October this year.

Reacting to the court ruling, state health minister Satyendar Jain said the Delhi government would challenge the HC’s judgment in the Supreme Court.

“Three years ago, we had made disbursing of essential medicines free, following which the crowd at the hospital increased. Earlier, it used to be 5,000-5,500 people per day but it went up to 9,000-10,000. The move to give preference to Delhiites was mooted because many residents had complained that though the facility had been announced, they couldn’t avail of it of due to the huge crowds,” the minister said.

He said that the situation was such that one bed was being shared by two persons. “Also, consultancy and OPD (out-patient department) facilities are free for all, and only medicine facilities would be for the people of Delhi. Besides, emergency facilities are free and only for planned treatment we have reserved 80% for Delhiites and rest for others,” Jain said.

According to the notification, patients possessing a voter ID Card of Delhi are put in one compartment and patients who do not have such identification classified as non-Delhi patients. For the two categories of patients, different standards and processes are applied for obtaining facilities for treatment in the OPD.

Non-resident patients were given a light blue coloured OPD card and free medicines, pharmacy access and diagnostic facilities, both pathological and radiological, were denied. Exclusive registration and medicine dispensing counters were set up for the Delhi residents.

The court said the state cannot avoid or shirk its constitutional obligation on account of financial constraints or non-availability of facilities.

“If we analyse the justification given by the state government in the present case, it would be seen that the state is shirking away from discharging its constitutional obligation and liability by contending lack of facilities like infrastructure, manpower and law and order situation created by outburst of population, the number of patients coming to the hospital for treatment,” it said.

The court said the classification was based on no reasonable justification except on the basis of the residence of a person. It also said the constitution guarantees equality before the law and confers equal protection on every citizen, adding that no citizen shall be discriminated against on the basis of place of birth.

“Health care facility and its access to a citizen is a right available under the Constitution,” the court said.

The Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party welcomed the ruling. “This was a completely discriminatory and inhuman diktat issued by the Delhi government and it deprived an ordinary citizen of India of the right to equality, life and good health. We believe that this was yet another conspiracy by the AAP government to create a divide between the people of this country,” said BJP national spokesperson Aman Sinha.

First Published: Oct 12, 2018 23:53 IST

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