By A Special Correspondent
First publised on 2020-06-08 21:15:56
The AAP party government in Delhi, headed by Arvind Kejriwal, had issued an order that all hospitals in Delhi will only treat Covid-19 patients who are residents of Delhi-NCR. The Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, Anil Baijal, who is also the chairman of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) overruled the decision today. Although Kejriwal had clarified yesterday that hospitals run by the Centre were free to treat any patients, those run by the Delhi government would treat only Delhi residents and outsiders could avail services in private hospitals.
His decision had come in for flak from many quarters. Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram asked Kejriwal who was a Delhiite. He raised the question that all members of any government scheme like ESI or medical insurance can avail of treatment at any enlisted hospital. Ideally, no hospital should be allowed to refuse a patient and cannot discriminate on the basis of anything, least of all place of residence. How can Delhi hospitals refuse to admit patients who have come to work in Delhi but are not permanent residents of the city?
But these are not ideal times. The country is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and Delhi has become a big hotspot. There are indications that community transmission might have started in the national capital region. Although there were other reasons too, the lockdown was imposed mainly to prevent, or at least delay community transmission and give state administrations time to ramp up their medical infrastructure. Delhi, like all other states, used the time to demarcate hospitals for treating Covid-19 patients, set up quarantine centres and put other medical protocols and infrastructure in place.
No state in India has the medical infrastructure to cater to a huge influx of patients from other states, at least not in the time of a pandemic. It is true of Delhi also. The case of Delhi is also peculiar because it is the city that has several states as hinterland and it has the best medical infrastructure for miles. Hence it is obvious that as the elected government of Delhi, AAP would want the facilities to be used by the resident of the region. There is nothing wrong with thinking like that but that is thinking only as a politician.
There is a humanitarian angle to medicine and treatment which Kejriwal and AAP have conveniently ignored. He had sealed Delhi's borders mainly to prevent non-residents from coming in for treatment. But when he opened the borders, he issued this diktat. Although Kejriwal will deny it, this is vote bank politics at its worst. He is trying to tell Delhiites that he has ramped up medical infrastructure and it is for them only. But democracies do not function like that and hospitals cannot refuse treatment to anyone. Kejriwal's order will crumble under judicial scrutiny and the Lt. Governor has done the right thing to overrule it.