New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday observed that while saving people from the Covid pandemic, there is no protection for them from fire as it directed the Gujarat government’s July 8 notification, restraining coercive action against the buildings having no building use (BU) permission, be kept in abeyance.
A bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah noted that “in effort of saving people by pandemic we are killing people by fire!”
Even with BU permission, if a 2-room place is converted to a hospital, one must take permission, it said, noting that the Gujarat government came out with notification suspending the general development control regulations (GDCR) and the town planning act.
The bench made these observations while hearing a plea by the Ahmedabad Medical Association seeking relaxation in BU for hospitals. Noting all the hospitals under the association have fire NOC, counsel for the association said it is not seeking any relief in connection with fire NOC, but the relief sought was for BU permission.
Emphasising that it is burden and obligation of states that patients are looked after, the court said that all governments converted places to hospitals, but it cannot justify that they will risk people’s safety.
“We are constantly exempting developers, violators from complying with law provisions. That’s all we are doing in this country,” the bench said.
Justice Chandrachud said that in “case after case, we see there is big mafia link between developers, planning authorities and law enforcement authorities”.
“And people who suffer are citizens and we can’t tolerate this,” he added.
Justice Shah remarked hospitals have become an investment.
The bench told the Gujarat government counsel: “Have you seen position of ICUs? One room had 5-6 beds… hospitals will be closed down, if ICMR were to be followed”.
“In the name of the pandemic, you will not do anything..” it said, noting that as a consequence of July 8, 2021 notification, the Gujarat government has directed that the buildings which do not have valid BU permission, or buildings which are in breach of BU permission, or buildings which have violated development control regulations as to height restrictions etc shall be exempt from obligation to comply with the GDCR for a period of three months from the last date of applicability of the Gujarat Epidemic Regulations.
“At this stage, it does appear that taking cover of the Covid 19 pandemic, a benefit has been conferred on them and the notification is clearly ultra vires the provisions of Section 122,” it said.
Directing to keep July 8 notification in abeyance, the bench pointed out there are hospitals which did not have BU permission for 38 years and asked the government to make them comply. It emphasised that gross irregularity in BU and fire permission is detriment to public health.
“We expect Gujarat to ensure compliance of law,” it added.
Two major fire incidents occurred at Covid hospitals last year in Gujarat, following which it faced scrutiny by the top court. The apex court had noticed that the July 8 notification by the government permitted the state’s hospitals to acquire BU permission by March 2022.