The HC said it had “full faith and trust” that the state will not unnecessarily restrict cellphone usage in hospitals and take steps to lessen — and eliminate — any problem the patients and their families may face due to such restrictions. A division bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan and justice Arijit Banerjee passed the 14-page order on four writ petitions challenging the state’s cellphone ban order.
The state government had told the HC that the April order was based on medical suggestions that phone usage could spread infection. But now it has been largely relaxed. In addition, there are intercom facility and wireless GSM-based phones in Covid wards in which relatives can call directly. There were video-calling facilities as well and the Covid-19 Patients Management System (CPMS) also helped patients’ kin to track daily health status, it was told. In MCH and MR Bangur, some restrictions are in place because of the higher percentage of critical patients, the state added.
The petitioners challenged this alleging no state other than Bengal has done this. Without a cellphone, a patient will be cut-off from their family. This, the petitions argued, is infringement on the right to communicate – a fundamental right – and singling out and banning mobile phones is absurd, since anything can be a potential Covid carrier. Instead, they argued, cellphones will keep patients in a better frame of mind and help recover quickly. Advocate Indrajit Dey said: “This ban impacted not just patients but more critically doctors and health workers.”
The HC said: “It is true that there is no conclusive evidence that mobile phones are potential carriers. It is equally true that there is no conclusive evidence that mobile phones cannot be potential carriers. Under the circumstances, we cannot say that it was wholly unreasonable, imprudent or arbitrary to impose a ban on use of phones inside Covid hospitals.”
The HC further added: “The situation was such that everybody was groping in the dark in search of ways to restrict the spread of Covid-19 pandemic. 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 HC said it isn’t convinced with the state reasoning on the continuing cellphone restrictions in MCH and MR Bangur because they have more critical patients. “It is not quite acceptable that all the other hospitals are treating less critical patients than the aforesaid two hospitals,” the HC said.