A petition was filed in the High Court of Calcutta where the petitioner had challenged the decision of the state government to ban the use of mobile phones in the hospital premises, in particular, hospitals treating COVID 19 patients.
On 22.04.2020 the government of West Bengal passed the order banning cell phones by stating that the cell phones might be carriers of CoronaVirus.
Arguments raised by the petitioners:-
- The petitioners have stated that the orders were passed without any basis, and it was arbitrary.
- It was also submitted to the Court that no other state government had passed such an order.
- The petitioners argued that a mobile phone was a link between a COVID -19 patient and his family. If the patients will not be able to communicate with their family, they will be in distress and will be anxious as well.
- It was also stated that the right to free communication was a fundamental right, and it cannot be infringed.
- The petitioners further argue that the state government had no data to back the claim that mobile phones can spread Coronavirus.
Contentions of Respondents:-
- The respondent- Government, stated that the order was backed by data and relied on a report of AIIMS Raipur which stated that the mobile phones could be a potential vector for the spread of Covid-19.
- It was also submitted that as per one other report, unrestricted use of mobile phones could be the missing link in controlling the COVID19 pandemic.
- The respondent stated that the ban on the use of mobile phones applied to other members of the hospitals as well as doctors, ward boys and nurses. Patients were not singled out for the ban.
- They further submitted that many arrangements had been made so that patients can stay in touch with their families. Landline phones have been installed in hospital wards, and facility of video call has also been provided.
- The government respondent also mentioned that in many hospitals, the use of mobile phones had been allowed. Still, cell phone use is banned in M.R. Bangur Hospital & Calcutta Medical College & Hospital, as many critical Covid-19 patients are admitted there.
- It was also submitted that one attendant is allowed in the hospital so that the family can keep a check on the patient.
The Court observed that the ban on the use of mobile phones infringed the right of free communication of the patients and other people(hospital staff, doctors nurses, etc.) present in the hospital.
The Court opined that It is true that there is no conclusive evidence that mobile phones are potential carriers of the virus. It is equally true that there is no conclusive evidence that mobile phones cannot be potential carriers of CoronaVirus.
In light of the above statement, the Court observed that the order passed by the government could not be termed unreasonable.
The Court appreciated the measure taken by the government where there was a ban on mobile phones by providing landlines and facilities of video calling.
About the newspaper reports relied on by the respondents, the Court stated that the newspapers have dubious evidentiary value and should not ordinarily be acted upon by a Court of law unless supported by an affidavit of the author of the report.
On the issue that M.R. Bangur Hospital & Calcutta Medical College & Hospitals are treating critical patients. Therefore a ban on mobile phones was necessary, the Court disagreed with the stand taken by the respondent state and opined that it could not be said that two hospitals are treating critical patients, but others are not.
The decision of the Court:-
The Court lifted the ban on the use of mobile phones in hospitals, including M.R. Bangur Hospital & Calcutta Medical College & Hospital. The Court stated that if the state wants to ban the use of mobiles phones in M.R. Bangur Hospital & Calcutta Medical College & Hospital, then they have to provide their reasons in writing.
Title:- Arjun Singh -Vs.- The State of West Bengal & Ors.
Case No. WPA 5374 of 2020
Date of Order: 30.09.2020
Coram: Hon’ble Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Hon’ble Justice Arijit Banerjee.