Gujarat HC Bench Ambiguously Changed Days After Criticizing State Government’s COVID-19 Plans

Just 7 days after a special bench passed a caustic order addressing the COVID-19 situation in Gujarat; the High Court bench has abruptly changed its composition. This has not only happened on the last working day of the week but surprisingly on the day of the hearing of the Public Interest Litigation.

Unnecessary Delay or a Tactful Move?

The revised bench comprises of the Gujarat High Court Chief Justice Vikram Nath himself along with Justice Pardiwala as the junior Judge. Since May 11, the bench comprised of Justice Pardiwala and Justice Ilesh Vora before the reshuffling.

Astoundingly, the bench headed earlier by Justice Pardiwala showed efficient involvement in bringing problems of COVID-19 to the spotlight. Yet, in several inclusive orders, the division bench called out the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital claiming it to be a “dungeon”. On May 25, the state government had, in fact, moved an urgent civil application, with Chief Justice Vikram Nath’s endorsement. The application had blindly declared the condition of Civil Hospital as “not as pathetic” as it was observed by the High Court orders on May 22, 2020. In reply to this, the bench headed by justice Pardiwala assured their initiative to have a surprise check to the civil hospital.

Efforts by Justice Pardiwala’s Bench

Previously, Justice Pardiwala’s bench took cognizance of the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths. On May 11, the bench addressed various social media reports regarding the ongoing migrant crisis and death rates. This also included the dreary situation in the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital. Amidst the alarming situation, the bench duly assessed the fact that 400 out of 764 deaths happened in the City Civil Hospital alone. The bench previously condemned the poor work done by the senior IAS officers and deputy chief minister Nitin Patel. They called it an artificial way of handling the case count.

Vide order dated March 22, 2020, the bench also duly recorded anonymous reports by a medical officer. It highlighted all 22 problem areas in the city civil hospital. This included a heart-wrenching letter by an anonymous doctor from the hospital. The bench stated:

It is very distressing to note that the condition prevailing, as on date, in the Civil Hospital, is pathetic. We are very sorry to state that the Civil Hospital Ahmedabad, appears to be in an extremely bad shape.”

Contradicting move by the Gujarat High Court.

A couple of days after Justice Pardiwala’s bench stepped up its game in tackling the COVID-19 issues, Gujarat High Court reshuffled the bench. Several concerned citizens and advocates have since then expressed their agony to the Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court. They raised opinions about the delay in proceeding with the significant plans made by the earlier bench.

From May 11-15, May 18-22 and from May 25-28, the earlier bench had scheduled its hearing of four consecutive PILs. The ambiguously restructured bench will now be hearing the COVID-19 PIL. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases in Gujarat have increased by 374 since then and an additional 23 deaths have been reported.