Supreme Court
Supreme Court
File Photo

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday directed all the states to carry out fire safety audit of dedicated COVID-19 hospitals across the country to prevent fire incidents in medical institutions.

The apex court also directed dedicated COVID-19 hospitals to take a no objection certificate (NOC) from the fire department within four weeks and said that failure to do so will invite punitive action.

A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan said that those hospitals, whose fire NOC has expired, will have to get it renewed within four weeks.

The top court said that all the states will follow COVID-19 guidelines, including on wearing of face mask and adherence to social distancing measures, and the standard operating procedure issued by the competent authority.

The bench, also comprising justices R S Reddy and M R Shah, said that issue of political rallies and observance of COVID-19 guidelines in such gatherings will be looked into by the Election Commission.

The apex court had earlier taken cognisance of a fire incident in a designated COVID-19 hospital in Gujarat's Rajkot in which several patients had died.

"The (dedicated COVID-19) hospitals which have not gone for the renewal for fire NOC should get it renewed within four weeks and action be taken if the renewal has not been obtained," the bench said, adding that "The hospitals which have not taken fire NOC should immediately go for it." It said that every state is obliged to appoint nodal officer to ensure that there is no repeat of fire incidents in hospitals which had taken place in Rajkot and Ahmedabad.

The apex court, which directed all the states to file compliance affidavit within four weeks, said if fire measures are not in place in COVID hospitals, then the state government will take necessary action.

The issue of Rajkot fire incident had cropped up in the top court while hearing a suo motu case on proper treatment of COVID-19 patients and dignified handling of bodies in hospitals.

While hearing the case on December 15, the bench had asked the Centre to consider granting break to doctors engaged in COVID-19 duty for the last seven-eight months, saying continuous work might be affecting mental health of doctors.

On December 9, the top court had sought "detailed" response from the Centre as well as states on issues ranging from adhering to COVID-19 guidelines on wearing of face masks and social distancing norms to implementation of fire safety guidelines in hospitals and nursing homes across the country.

Earlier, the apex court had said that people are violating "with impunity" the COVID-19 guidelines on wearing face masks at public places and are not adhering to social distancing norms.

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