COVID-19: Requisitioning private ambulances costly, not possible: Maharashtra government tells Bombay HC

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MUMBAI: The Maharashtra government on Tuesday told Bombay High Court it would not be possible for it to requisition privately operated ambulances, but said people could use taxis, autorickshaws and private vehicles to go to hospitals as the restrictions in place for the coronavirus outbreak had been eased.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice S S Shinde that the government would requisition a privately operated ambulance if it receives a complaint against it for not plying or refusing to take a patient.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by former MP Kirit Somaiya raising concerns over shortage of ambulances in the city and state.

Last week, the court asked the government to consider requisition of private ambulances.

To this, Kumbhakoni on Tuesday said requisition of private ambulances was very expensive and hence not possible.

“With the lockdown being eased and travel within city limits permitted, people can use their cars or taxis and autos to go to hospitals if it is a non-COVID-19 issue,” Kumbhakoni told the court.

He said a database will be created and uploaded on the website of the Regional Transport Office (RTO) giving details and contact numbers of all private ambulances plying in each area, enabling public to contact the ambulance directly.

The court then suggested the government to consider imposing a cap on the amount levied by private ambulances to ferry a patient, and posted the matter for further hearing on June 23.

As per the petition, the city had 3,000ambulances, including private ones, until March 20.

However, the number drastically reduced to 100 after the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

Somaiya’s advocates Gaurav Mehta and Shivani Agarwal said the number of COVID-19 cases in the city was steadily increasing, and, during lockdown when there is restricted movement of public transport vehicles and private cars, people were facing a dearth of ambulances.

“The government runs ‘108 ‘ambulance service which has 93 ambulances in Mumbai. There are some 3,000 ambulances run by private operators. It is shocking to note there has been a significant decrease in the number of private ambulances rendering their services during the pandemic,” the petition said.

Somaiya alleged the state government and municipal body were blatantly ignoring the issue.

“The intent of setting up isolation wards, quarantine centres, high functioning hospitals and efforts of so many medical and health care workers shall be in vain if people who are in need of these services fail to get them in time,” the petition said.

Somaiya sought a direction to authorities to take steps immediately to increase the number of ambulances in the city.

The state government, in a public-private arrangement, has nearly 1000 ambulances, with 93 in Mumbai.

Sixty of these are deployed for COVID-19 patients.

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