BAN on Mobile phone in Hospitals: High court asks state to reconsider move
Calcutta: Agreeing that ban impinges upon the right of free communication of patients, the Calcutta High Court stated that the State Government shall take such appropriate measures without compromising the health issues of the public at large to ease out the ban on the use of mobile phones in hospitals since it causes inconvenience and other problems for the members of the society
The State Government through an order dated April 22, 2020, banned the use of cell phones inside hospital premises, and in particular, the hospitals where Covid-19 patients are admitted. The Order was passed on the basis that cell phones could be carriers of the Corona Virus.
However, a batch of petitions was moved to challenge the order. The petitioners called the decision to ban the use of cell phones as arbitrary and without any basis.
The petitioners submitted that although under Section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, the concerned authorities can adopt measures and issue directions to prevent the spread of an epidemic, their actions must pass the test of reasonableness.
"By imposing such a ban, the State Government has illegally impinged upon the right of free communication which is a Fundamental Right of every citizen of India including the patients infected with Covid-19 and their family members," the petitioners alleged.
The petitioner further submitted;
"The prohibition imposed by the State Government is violative of Articles 19 (1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution. The ban on mobile phones in Covid-19 hospitals is perverse. Such a ban serves no purpose other than to prevent the possibility of exposure of gross mismanagement of Covid-19 patients and the deplorable condition that exists in hospitals."
It was further contended that to single out a cell phone as a potential carrier of Coronavirus is absurd.
Responding to the contentions, the State argued that in the wake of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government adopted such measures as it thought would be in the best interest of everybody concerned.
"There was one school of thought that cell phones could be potential carriers of Coronavirus. Since this was a possibility, the Government played it safe. It cannot be said that the decision of the Government was based on no material at all. Further, with the passage of time, the restriction imposed has been eased out gradually and cell phones are now being permitted to be used in most of the hospitals," it contended.
"In the hospitals like M.R. Bangur and Calcutta Medical College where cell phones are still not being allowed, sufficient arrangements have been made for audio/video calling so that a patient can be in touch with his/her family members and the latter can be kept informed about the state of health of the patient," the State added.
After hearing the contentions, the court opined that mobile phones have become the most used means of communication between persons at different geographical locations. The court observed;
"No doubt that the ban on the use of cell phones in hospitals impinged upon the right of free communication of patients and others present in a hospital. However, one must remember that with the sudden outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world at large including the governments across the countries were faced with an unprecedented situation. The people of this planet including the medical sector across the globe were taken by complete surprise by the novel Corona Virus about which nobody knew much. Nobody had any idea as to how to contain the spread of the virus or to escape from the sinister claws of the virus. There was no medical protocol in place."
The court, stressing on the fact that the situation was not different in the State of West Bengal noted, "There was one school of medical thought that subscribed to the idea that mobile phones could be potential carriers of Corona Virus."
The court further added;
"It is true that there is no conclusive evidence that mobile phones are potential carriers of the virus. It is equally true that there is no conclusive evidence that mobile phones cannot be potential carriers of the Corona Virus. Under those circumstances, we cannot say that it was wholly unreasonable, imprudent or arbitrary on the part of the State administration to impose a ban on the use of mobile phones inside hospitals that were treating Covid-19 patients. The situation was such that everybody was groping in the dark in search of ways and means to restrict the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and find a cure for the malady. In such a situation, often it becomes necessary for the people in governance to take a decision on a trial and error basis or to impose certain restrictions on the members of the society for the safety of their health which may have the effect of curtailment of some of their constitutional rights."
The court shunned the petitioner's submission that the decision of the State government was perverse or Wednesbury unreasonable.
However, it was not much convinced by the State's explanation as to why M. R. Bangur Hospital and Calcutta Medical College Hospital were not permitted to use mobile phones. The State had submitted that since these two hospitals have more critical patients than the other hospitals and hence the restriction on the use of mobile phones is still there in these two hospitals.
The court held;
"It is not quite acceptable that all the other hospitals are treating less critical patients than the aforesaid two hospitals. However, we are sure that the appropriate sector of the State administration shall revise and reassess the situation in the said two hospitals, i.e., M.R. Bangur Hospital and Calcutta Medical College Hospital and, unless there are very compelling reasons to be recorded in writing by the appropriate authority, the ban on the use of mobile phones in these two hospitals also will be lifted."
Subsequently, the Bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee further stated that the State Government should follow any directive/advisory issued in this regard by the appropriate department of the Central Government and disposed of the petitions.
To access the official judgment click on the link below-