HC pulls up Centre for ‘virtually defending’ manufacturers of ‘defective’ ventilators supplied to Marathwada

Centre 'completely denies' claims of ventilators supplied through PM Cares funds.

The Central Government on Friday ‘completely denied’ that the ‘defective’ or ‘dysfunctional’ ventilators supplied to Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Aurangabad for Marathwada region were provided through ‘ PM Cares’ funds and said that same were purchased through the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW).

The bench pulled up the Centre and observed in its order that an affidavit in reply filed by the central government had “semblance of affiant virtually defending manufacturers and declaring that ventilators are in immaculate condition”. HC noted that such statements demonstrated ‘ insensitivity by MoHFW’ and failed to express ‘wholehearted support to ensure that such costly instruments are put to optimum utilization in the interest of lives of patients.’

“Are you (Centre) going to justify the company or be alive to the fact that these ventilators are affecting people’s lives?” HC questioned.

The Court noted that the Central government had raised doubt on efficiency of medical staff of hospitals as the ventilators in question were not used by following ‘prescribed procedures’ and therefore they had malfunctioned. “We are unable to appreciate the contention that said ventilators are in perfect condition,” HC noted.

“We would have appreciated if the affidavit had avoided entering into the blame game and instead would have shown sensitivity towards the patients, it being the paramount object of the welfare state to take care of its citizens,” HC said.

A division bench of Justice Ravindra V Ghuge and Justice Bhalchandra U Debadwar was hearing suo motu PIL filed based on news reports pertaining to covid-19 management including lack of supply of essential equipment in hospitals and black-marketing of antiviral drugs.

On May 25, the bench had directed the Union government to address the issue at the next hearing. HC was informed Chief Public Prosecutor D R Kale, representing state government, that of the 150 ventilators supplied by Central government through PM Cares funds received by the Dean of GMCH, except 37 that are yet to be unboxed, 113 ventilators were found to be defective by government and private hospitals in Marathwada.

On Friday, Assistant Solicitor General Ajay G Talhar for central government submitted an affidavit filed by MoHFW with a ‘complete denial’ that the said ventilators were supplied through PM Cares Funds. The affidavit stated that these ventilators under model name ‘DHAMAN-III’ originated from a company named ‘Jyoti CNC’ from Rajkot, Gujarat and were checked through ‘world class testing parameters’.

The affidavit contained explanation by manufacturer, which stated that the GMC, Aurangabad was ‘non cooperative right from acceptance of the delivery’ and that there is nothing on record to demonstrate that ventilators are malfunctioning’ and that due to ‘inadequate infrastructure’ at the GMCH, ventilators are not being used properly.

“They (ventilators manufactured by the same company) are performing well in the other regions of India and the state and there is no fault on part of the manufacturer and it cannot be held responsible for inadequacies on the part of GMCH,” the affidavit mentioned.

The bench observed that the Centre’s affidavit did not even ‘remotely refer’ to a report submitted by Dean of GMCH, Aurangabad, signed by a committee of eight senior doctors who deal with ICU and utilization of ventilators and ‘several details in the report were quite shocking’.

The expert committee had noted that other ventilators manufactured by different companies were being successfully used for more than six months to one year and it was only those ventilators manufactured by Jyoti CNC, Rajkot which were malfunctioning.

The committee had finally opined that said ventilators were ‘unsafe for patient use’ and it was decided ‘not to test any of them on patients henceforth.’

Thereafter, ASG Talhar submitted that MoHFW would take all remedial steps and ensure ventilators would operate normally and all defects, if any, would be removed.

The Court however sought to know from the ministry as to whether manufacturers and the procuring agency that delivered ventilators to GMC had inquired about efficiency of the hospital infrastructure and training given to technicians handling ventilators. The HC also asked Talhar to respond to the findings of an 8-member committee report.

“We would also appreciate if MOHFW refrains from questioning reports of medical experts and instead respects them in the larger interest of the society for rectifying the said machines,” HC noted and posted further hearing to June 2.

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