The Delhi High Court Tuesday rapped the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) for “apathy” as well as lack of “swiftness and alacrity” in responding to requests by students and faculty to set up COVID care and oxygen production facilities on the campus which has seen a three-fold rise in infections in three weeks. Justice Prathiba M Singh said that considering the “rigour” of the current pandemic, the JNU administration “ought to have reacted with swiftness and alacrity” to the several correspondences sent to it from April 13 onwards.
“You got the first letter on April 13 and today is May 11. Almost a month has gone by, but there has been no response from the Vice-Chancellor or the administration. There is complete apathy. I am shocked,” Justice Singh said. She noted that from 74 cases on April 18, the number of COVID-19 cases on the JNU campus has gone up to 211 on May 7, indicating a three-fold increase in three weeks.
The court said that all the varsity had to do was get in touch with authorities and help could have been given by any local hospital. “You had to try. It was only a question of taking interest in doing so,” it added.
The court said such a conduct of the varsity, in not responding to the requests, “would constitute gross neglect by the JNU administration in a situation which is completely alarming”.
“The University is bound to take care of the health of the students and teachers, and make available the facilities, to the extent possible, within the campus, especially considering the prevalent shortages for hospital beds etc., ” it said.
“Judicial notice can be taken of the fact that various organisations and institutions have gone out of their way, during the current pandemic, to make various facilities available to their employees and other stakeholders, in order to safeguard their health during the current surge of the COVID- 19 pandemic. The JNU ought not to be an exception in this regard,” the court said.
It directed JNU to file a status report on the steps taken by the administration in respect of the requests made by the petitioners — JNU Teachers Association, JNU Students Association and two faculty members — for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic situation in the campus since April 13. The court directed the JNU VC and Registrar to ascertain the necessity and feasibility of creating a COVID care facility in the campus and to file a status report regarding that.
It said the report “shall take into consideration the proposals given by the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health (CSMCH) as also the proposal for inhouse production of oxygen, given by the School of Life Sciences. “The authorities in JNU to consider if there is any modification required to the said proposals as has been suggested by the students and teachers associations. The modalities for creation of COVID care facility shall be mentioned in the report.” The direction was passed as the petitioners, represented by advocate Abhik Chimni, had told the court that despite submitting a proposal for creation of COVID care facility and generation of oxygen within the campus, no response was received from the administration which amounts to “dereliction of duty” by it.
He also told the court that letters to the Secretary of Ministry of Education, the Secretary of the University Grants Commission and the Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of the area evoked no response from any of them. The lawyer for the SDM told the court that since the entire campus is within the control of the JNU administration, they are unable to do anything. “However if the administration permits, they are willing to coordinate with the faculty, students and the administration, in order to set up a COVID care facility, which would be attached to some hospital,” the SDM’s lawyer told the court.
In view of the submission, the court directed the SDM/ADM of the area to file a status report on whether a COVID care facility can be created at JNU in accordance with the applicable guidelines, and if so, to indicate the manner in which the doctors and paramedics, as also nurses, would be made available there and whether the facility would be tied up with any particular hospital. If it can be linked to a hospital, then the name of the hospital be also indicated in the report after obtaining its concurrence, the court directed the SDM.
The JNU Registrar was also directed to convene a meeting in the evening of the VC, other internal administrative staff and the concerned SDM/ADM of the area, to work out the formalities and the protocols. “A second meeting shall also be convened by the Registrar chaired by the VC, other administrative staff, SDM/ADM concerned along with six representatives of the students and the teachers unions, as also the departments which have given the proposals, at 11 AM tomorrow, i.e. May 12, to discuss the said proposals/ letters for setting up of a COVID care facility in the JNU campus. The said meetings can be held through a virtual platform,” the court directed. It said that the status reports explaining the feasibility, modalities and timelines for setting up of a COVID care centre, preferably with oxygenated beds, be emailed by both the JNU administration and the ADM/SDM of the area, to the court by 9 AM on May 13, the next date of hearing.