It wants health booklets and smart cards issued to patients

To ensure proper implementation of the relief and rehabilitation programme and regular health care facilities for the Bhopal gas leak victims, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that all medical records of patients be computerised and health booklets and smart cards be issued to each victim.

A Bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices A.K. Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar gave this directive on a petition filed by the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan.

Entrusting the Empowered Monitoring Committee with this task, the Bench said: “It must undertake to operationalise medical surveillance, computerisation of medical information, publication of ‘health booklets,’ etc. It shall also ensure that ‘health booklets’ and ‘smart cards’ are provided to each… victim irrespective of where such victim is being treated.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Kumar said: “The Empowered Monitoring Committee shall have complete jurisdiction to oversee the proper functioning of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) as well as other government hospitals dealing with the gas victims. This jurisdiction shall be limited to the problems relatable to the gas victims or the problems arising directly from the incident [which occurred on the night of December 2-3, 1984 at Union Carbide’s plant] or even the problems allied thereto. The Monitoring Committee shall have no jurisdiction over the private hospitals, nursing homes and clinics in Bhopal. However, it does not absolve the State of Madhya Pradesh and the Medical Council of India of discharging its responsibilities towards the… victims who are being treated in private hospitals, nursing homes or clinics.”

Justifying the directions, the Bench said: “Unlike natural calamities that are beyond human control, avoidable disasters resulting from human error/negligence prove more tragic and… imbalance the inter-generational equity and cause irretrievable damage to the health and environment for generations to come. Such tragedy may occur from pure negligence, contributory negligence or even failure to take necessary precautions in carrying on certain industrial activities. More often than not, the affected parties have to face avoidable damage and adversity that result from such disasters. The magnitude and extent of adverse impact on the financial soundness, social health and upbringing of younger generation, including progenies, may have been beyond human expectations. In such situations and where the laws are silent or are inadequate, the courts have unexceptionally stepped in to bridge the gaps, to provide for appropriate directions and guidelines to ensure that fundamentals of Article 21 of the Constitution are not violated.”

The Bench directed the State government and the Monitoring Committee to evolve a methodology for a common referral system among the various medical units under the erstwhile BMHRC and the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department to ensure that the victims “are referred to appropriate centres for proper diagnosis and treatment…” The Monitoring Committee shall issue a standardised protocol for treating each category of ailment.

The Bench said: “The management of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust (BMHT) has already been vested with the [Union] Ministry of Health and Family Welfare… and the working of the BMHT has come to an end. We, thus, direct that the Union of India and the State of Madhya Pradesh take appropriate steps to ensure the dissolution of the Trust in accordance with law.”