‘Won’t permit experimentation with defective ventilators’: Bombay High Court tells Centre

Stating that it would not permit “experimentation of ventilators”, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court on Wednesday told the Central government that it can’t allow use of “defective” equipment supplied to Marathwada as it may
“cause risk or hazards to the patients”.

The court said that if the ventilators are found dysfunctional, the Centre should take action against the manufacturer, adding that the Union government is liable for ensuring that defective equipments are replaced with new, functional ventilators.

A division bench of Justice Ravindra V Ghuge and Justice Bhalchandra U Debadwar was hearing a suo motu PIL based on news reports on Covid-19 management in districts across Marathwada and North Maharashtra regions.

The HC first took a cognisance of the issue last month after it was informed by Chief Public Prosecutor DR Kale, representing Maharashtra government, that of the 150 ventilators supplied by the Centre to the GMCH through PM CARES Fund, as many as 113 were found to be “defective” by government and private hospitals in Marathwada. The remaining 37 equipment are yet to be unboxed, he added.

On May 28, the Union Government denied allegations that “defective” or “dysfunctional” ventilators were supplied to Marathwada, even as the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) submitted that it would take all steps to ensure ventilators operate normally and all defects, if any, be removed.

Kale, while submitting minutes of a meeting on May 29 at GMCH, Aurangabad, held for conducting analysis of installation, commissioning and operation of the ventilators, said a model named DHAMAN-III, manufactured and supplied by a company called Jyoti CNC from Rajkot, suffered continuous breakdown even after repairs and desaturation.

He said the staff at Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) was well-equipped to operate the ventilators, contrary to the claims made by the Centre.

Representing the Central government, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh said two senior doctors from Delhi would visit GMCH on Thursday to carry out an extensive inspection of the ventilators in question. He said if the equipments are found to be dysfunctional, the manufacturer would be held liable.

He said the Centre will press for replacement of such defective ventilators, adding the government “has every desire” to ensure patients are treated properly with the aid of ventilators.

ASG Singh added that no casualty would occur since these ventilators would not be made operational before the doctors visiting on Thursday ensure that the equipments are up to desirable operational standard.

Kale submitted that “it is extremely risky” to utilise defective ventilators and that GMCHs would not use them until fully convinced that they are “perfectly functional” and would deliver desired results while treating patients. “GMCH does not want to be blamed for a casualty if it occurs on account of use of such ventilators,” he said, adding the hospitals in Marathwada region have sufficient ventilators as of now.

After hearing the submissions, the bench noted, “We expect the Centre to be firm with the manufacturer…and if we find it necessary, we would be directing the returning of defective ventilators. In such a situation, it would be the responsibility of the Union government that defective ventilators be replaced with new, functional ventilators as manufacturing defects call for replacement under the warranty scheme.”

It added: “In short, we would not permit experimentation of ventilators which have undergone major repairs in treating patients since this would be causing risk/health hazard. If unfortunately, the use of such ventilators may cause loss of life… it should be averted.”

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