It is not possible to convert railway coaches into intensive care units (ICUs) to treat Covid-19 patients without making extensive structural modifications and other major changes, the railway administration had informed the Bombay high court (HC) on Monday. The affidavit had been filed in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) by activist Naresh Kapur, suggesting that the railway coaches be converted into treatment facilities.
The affidavit had stated that these coaches are converted to isolation facilities to augment Covid care and as a temporary measure, till train services resume. If any other major changes are carried out, the immediate re-use of the converted coaches for the purpose of travelling will become impossible without carrying out modifications again, the railways has claimed.
The judges on Thursday dismissed the PIL, stating they had no doubt in their mind that the authorities “shall not leave any stone unturned to preserve the lives of citizens” and provide proper and adequate health care and medical treatment to those in need. The bench also recorded its appreciation for the concerns expressed by Kapur, which has resulted in the introduction of the rapid antigen test for detection of Covid-19 immediately instead of the long-drawn tests.
In his PIL, filed through advocate Prerak Choudhary, Kapur had complained about the shortage of beds for treatment of Covid-19 as well as non-Covid patients across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, and suggested that railway coaches should be converted into treatment facilities. Kapur’s petition had also stated that the inefficient management of the coronavirus outbreak had resulted in the complete breakdown of the healthcare system within the region, with the cases rising at an alarming rate.
Acting on the PIL, a bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice MS Karnik had on June 23 called for an affidavit stating why CR and WR did not consider it necessary to convert railway coaches into intensive care units (ICU) for Covid-19 patients.
The railways in its affidavit on Monday had stated that the changes will require detailed design support and elaborate facilities that are made available at the stage of manufacturing. It had also claimed that Central Railway (CR) has converted 482 non-air conditioned coaches on 24 rakes – spread over the central line across Maharashtra – into isolation facilities, by removing the middle seat and converting one toilet at the end of the bogey into a bathroom. The first cabin near the entrance can be used as store and/or paramedic area.
Similarly, the Western Railway (WR) has also converted 410 non-air conditioned coaches on 18 rakes into quarantine facilities and kept the rakes at important junctions along the line from Mumbai to Bhavnagar in Gujarat.
Meanwhile, the court has rejected Kapur’s prayer for a direction to order the state and civic authorities to reopen all hospitals, nursing homes and dispensaries, which have been closed either due to departmental orders or judicial orders, to meet the needs of Covid-19 as well as other patients.
“Granting the prayer would amount to tinkering with administrative or judicial orders and such course is plainly impermissible,” the bench had said while rejecting the prayer.