The Bombay high court on Tuesday sounded surprised at the scanty steps taken by the Union and state governments to check Ebola virus spreading in Maharashtra. The court said: "Deploying a medical team at airports is not enough unless this is your policy and you only rely on 'self declaration' by passengers."
A division bench of justices Abhay Oka and Girish Kulkarni also expressed anguish over the affidavits and arguments put up by both the governments, which have failed to spell out the mechanism in place to ensure that passengers coming from Ebola-affected African countries do not carry the disease.
"Neither the state nor the central government is able to make an elementary statement that passengers are being checked at airports. What is the use of hospitals having facilities? So you are allowing them (passengers from affected countries) to move around."
The court made these observations after Rui Rodriguez, counsel for Union government, had informed it that the ministry of health had provided the ministry of civil aviation a mandatory health screening card which passengers coming from affected areas had to fill before their plane lands in India. The health card has details of the symptoms of the disease. Passengers are accordingly categorized as perceived risk.
The bench said: "Tell us where is the facility at airports to check each and every passenger from these identified countries. Show us the machinery available at airports to check passengers."
Government pleader Molina Thakur, appearing for the state, informed the court that govt had taken several measures: Isolation facilities have been identified in airports at Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad and Nagpur, where passengers from Ebola-affected countries are expected to land. In Mumbai and rest of Maharashtra there is now an Ebola Helpline, and the helpline numbers have been forwarded to all doctors dealing with Ebola suspects. These doctors can contact on this number for further information," Thakur said.
All this transpired during the hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by former journalist Ketan Tirodkar. The petition has sought a court directive to Union home ministry asking it to issue a notice to Mumbai international airport to prevent passengers arriving from West African countries from alighting from the aircraft. According to Tirodkar, India is not equipped to prevent the spread of the virus. He said the US and some South Asian countries had banned such passengers from alighting on their soil, but India was lagging behind in this aspect.
The court, which adjourning the hearing to Wednesday, directed both the governments to give details about the number of flights from affected countries landing in Maharashtra; how many medical teams to screen passengers have been deployed at various airports, etc.
Ebola Helpline Number (Mumbai): 02224114000; Rest of Maharashtra: 02026125792.