The Delhi High Court on Friday quashed an AAP government circular giving preferential treatment to city residents over others at GTB Hospital here as a pilot project, saying it led to creation of a "class within a class" of identically placed citizens which was "impermissible".
A bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V K Rao also rejected the Delhi government's defence that the decision was taken due to lack of facilities, saying that the State "cannot avoid or shirk away" from its constitutional obligations on account of financial constraints or lack of infrastructure and manpower.
"In our considered view, this is not permissible. State is obliged and mandated to provide all such facilities as are to be provided to a citizen, particularly, the requirement envisaged under Article 21 of the Constitution and the reasons given before us cannot be substantial or reasonable reasons for shirking away from discharging this constitutional liability," it said.
The court did not approve of the Delhi government's decision to classify patients as Delhi residents and non-residents based on their Voter ID cards, saying that such classification "was based on no reasonable justification".
"If we analyse the justification given by the State for giving certain special benefit to voters with identity card of Delhi and if we evaluate the same in the backdrop of the aforesaid legal principle, we are of the considered view that the same cannot be upheld," the bench said in its 20-page judgement.
The decision came while allowing a PIL by NGO Social Jurist, filed through advocate Ashok Agarwal, challenging the October 1 circular issued by the Delhi government regarding commencement of the pilot project at the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital in east Delhi's Dilshad Garden.
Quashing the circular, the court said it classifies identically situated persons differently for the purpose of granting them medical facility "without any rational basis" and therefore, it cannot be upheld.
The bench said the circular proposed to achieve the goal of decongestion and avoid situations like assault on doctors due to outburst of patient population, but to do that the government was practising a classification which was prohibited under the law.
The classification was not based on any scientific system but on availability of a Voter ID card, it said.
Though the purpose was to decongest the hospital and to bring in a system of discipline in its functioning, "in our considered view, neither is the classification reasonable, is not based on any justifiable reason nor is the nexus said to be achieved a reasonable one," the court said.
It said that providing medical facilities to each and every citizen was a constitutional responsibility as part of which the government may classify people into different categories by adopting a classification "which has nexus to the purpose to be achieved".
The bench noted that as per the circular, non-resident Delhi patients were given a light blue coloured OPD card and the facilities of free medicines, pharmacy facilities and facilities of investigation (tests), both pathological and radiological, were denied.
Delhi residents did not face any such problem, it further noted and said, "We have no hesitation in holding that the act of the respondent - Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi in creating a class within a class i.e. within citizens identically situated is impermissible and thereby further act of conferring benefit of medical facility to citizens on such classification is impermissible.
"Accordingly, we allow the petition and quash the impugned circular and direct the respondents to provide facilities of medical treatment in the hospital in question to all citizens entitled to the same as was being done before enforcing the aforesaid circular."
The proposal to give preference to the city residents at the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, one of the several hospitals runs by the Delhi government, was approved in August by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Under the pilot project, Delhi residents were to get preference at registration counters, in-patient department, tests and medicine counter service at the hospital and identification was to be done on the basis of voter identity card.
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