Pramod Acharya 09th Jul 2021
When the advocate general of the state told the high court that probing into the Covid deaths of Goans due to scarcity of oxygen supply would serve no purpose, it shook me to the core. How can any government take such a stand regarding the heartbreaking deaths of its bonafide citizens due to mismanagement of a crisis?
Let us first understand the chronology and then come to the justifications specified by the government before the high court.
The Health Minister of the state explicitly admitted that people are losing lives because of shortage and also an outmoded structure of O2 dispersal for patients in the Goa Medical College. All of us were receiving distress calls post-midnight during that time. We were sensing that something is drastically wrong. However, due to the absence of any data as well as intricate comprehension of system functioning in the GMC, we could not locate the problem. Health Minister's admission on camera compelled us to deep dive into this exploration.
Even after much uproar, the deaths did not stop. It took almost ten days for the things to fall in place. In the meantime, numerous citizens approached the high court. The court started taking daily reports from the government and monitored the improvement. Some scathing remarks from the court, blatant admission of shortage of O2 and obsolete systems in the GMC by the officials and intense media pressure speeded up the augmentation.
Many individuals, including some family members of the deceased and doctors on duty, have narrated the dreadful stories of those fateful nights to us on the condition of anonymity. The helplessness and ordeal they went through are unimaginable. Family members saw their dear ones departing forever gasping for air. Doctors struggled with an awareness that many lives could have been saved if they had sufficient oxygen or adequate pressure in the supply. They knew they did all they could. These were factors beyond their scope of expertise. The lacunas letting them down were administrative, not medical.
The question remains: how many Goan died due to oxygen shortage, drop in O2 pressure or systemic shortcomings? We do not know. Do we have a right to know? Of course, we do. Is it wrong to ask for accountability and judicial inquiry into the number of deaths during those two weeks? Of course, not!
However, the government has used the healthcare warriors and their administrative bosses to narrate before the high court that the inquiry need not be conducted. As per the powers that be, any inquiry of such nature would be demoralizing for those frontline workers who toiled tirelessly during this period. The government also believes that burdening the state administration with a judicial inquiry would be counterproductive. It would be ‘unfair’ considering the preparations to counter the third wave, the government contends.
Neither the association of resident doctors nor Indian Medical Association - Goa has at any point stated that a comprehensive inquiry into the deaths during those two weeks would 'distress' or 'demoralize' them. In addition, the government had appointed a committee under the chairpersonship of IIT director, ex-dean of the GMC and an IAS officer to probe into the issues of oxygen supply in the state's premier health institute. What report has the committee submitted and what is the harm in making it public?
No one, has even once, raised any aspersions on the commitment and dedication with which our healthcare workers including doctors persevered in the various government covid facilities. In fact, the way doctors and other healthcare staff catered to the relentless flow of covid patients needing urgent medical care is absolutely admirable. Goa Medical College did not turn away a single patient that needed medical attention. It was awful of see so many of our fellow Goans lying on floor and stretchers during those testing times. Imagine how the doctors and paramedics handled that situation. We know of patients with CT severity score of 24 getting discharged from the GMC after successful treatment.
Everybody is conscious that the lapses were administrative and at the decision making level that handled provision of resources. Nobody has even hinted at medical negligence. So why would such an inquiry be demoralizing and unfair?
The rift between the Chief Minister and Health Minister was a public knowledge by then. Health Minister even skipped a critical meeting chaired by the CM on streamlining oxygen supply in the GMC. There are serious apprehensions whether the administration would have moved with same seriousness and swiftness without high court intervention. Political leadership was plagued with infightings and healthcare system was strained with the enormity of the situation.
It is absurd to argue that a post mortem of deaths would be 'distressing' and 'unfair'. As such any probe is upsetting for some or the other individual or entity. Any investigation either leads to culpability or clean chits. But a government cannot and should not take a position that even an inquiry into so many deaths of fellow Goans is needless.
Let there be probe. Let people of Goa know who erred.
Accountability cannot be sidestepped. Political inconvenience cannot be a justification to forfeit sense of justice. You need to take an appropriate action. There cannot be a stance that we choose not to establish guilt. Such an 'unfair' stand from my government certainly makes me 'distressed'.