Why Bihar is thanking a law student and the High Court
It was Shivani Kaushik's PIL that led to the lockdown in Patna. The state government was forced to furnish daily updates on oxygen supply and stocks of medicine to the court. Many lives were saved
She is still a Law student. And she is 24 years old. But people in Bihar have been thanking her for exposing the state government’s failures to deal with the pandemic. A PIL she filed before the Patna High Court snowballed into a major headache for the Double Engine Government in Bihar.
The case Shivani Kaushik vs The State of Bihar has been hogging the headlines for months. One thing led to another and the Patna HC kept slamming the state government and demanded data and details, directing the state to redress grievances of the people. Till a month ago, Kaushik was arguing the case herself but now, in view of her impending exams, the High Court has appointed a lawyer to assist it. Kaushik continues to participate in the virtual hearings.
It was her PIL that led to the lockdown in Patna. And newspapers almost daily began to carry reports of the HC asking the state to explain why patients were unable to get beds in hospitals even when beds were unoccupied; the state was forced to furnish daily updates on oxygen supply and stocks of medicine to the court. The court also cracked down on the state following complaints that people were being fleeced at crematoriums and asked uncomfortable questions about the number of deaths caused by Covid and the bodies floating in rivers.
Daily hearings in the High Court, everybody agrees, have led to improvements and from the Chief Secretary to the Health Secretary, state government officials were kept on their toes.
Kaushik does not come from a family of lawyers. Nobody in her family is one. Indeed, her decision to study Law was prompted more by the delay in the declaration of English (Hons) results. By the time she finished her first semester in Amity University, the first wave of the pandemic hit India and a lockdown was declared.
Kaushik says she was struck by the discriminatory policy of the state government which declared health workers, especially doctors, as Corona warriors and announced facilities and incentives; but similar incentives were not extended to policemen and women who were also in the forefront and on the ground facing the brunt of Covid and the people’s ire. That is when she first approached the High Court with a PIL.
She then stumbled upon children forraging through medical waste to recover used masks and gloves. Alarmed at the failure of hospitals to dispose medical waste and the threat it posed to the poor, she again filed a prayer for suitable directions. “ The Pro-Vice Chancellor Vivekanand Pandey encouraged me to raise my voice and told me that Law students must face the challenge of calling out irregularities and call a spade a spade,” she recalls.
“I have no quarrel with the state government and I am not fighting against the government. My quarrel is with the system,’ she says. It felt nice to see the High Court taking her petitions seriously and the state government responding positively, she adds. The feeling that people have benefitted has given her satisfaction and continues to motivate her.
Even doctors concede that the intervention by the High Court helped. Since the HC began to monitor steps taken by the Government, the state had to divert industrial oxygen for medical oxygen; it had to arrange for medical oxygen from other states.
When the state claimed non-availability of beds in NMCH, the High Court sent a team to verify the claim and it was found that half the beds were unoccupied. “If the High Court had not been pro-active, I shudder to think how much worse the conditions would have been,” exclaims social activist Rohan Anand.