This comes hours after the top court suggested that the Centre should create a mechanism wherein private laboratories did not charge exorbitant fees from public and government should reimburse the fees charged by labs.
The apex court also ordered that such tests be conducted only in NABL accredited labs or agencies approved by the World Health Organization or the ICMR. The court raised questions on the feasibility of tests that were being charged Rs 4,500 by private labs.
The Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and Ravindra S Bhat was hearing a PIL filed by Advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi, which sought a direction to the government to make COVID-19 testing free across the country.
On March 31, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Centre and authorities concerned to provide free testing facilities for COVID-19 to all citizens in the country.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said it is a developing situation and government at this juncture does not know how many laboratories will be needed and how long the ongoing lockdown will continue.
The petitioner has also sought a direction to the authorities for ramping up the testing facilities for COVID-19 at the earliest “given the escalating mortality and morbidity rate across the country”.
The petition has questioned the March 17 advisory of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) which capped Rs 4,500 for testing of COVID-19 in private hospitals or labs, including screening and confirmatory tests.
“It is extremely difficult for the common citizen to get himself/herself tested in the government hospital /labs and being no alternative in the sight, the people are constrained to pay the capped amount to the private hospital/labs for protecting their lives,” it said.
The plea said the impending danger of coronavirus is extremely serious, given the deprived population of the country, and testing is the only way to contain the pandemic. It alleged that authorities are “completely insensitive and indifferent” to the plight of common citizens who are already financially burdened on account of complete lockdown across the country.
“Further, the capping of the prices of the testing facility of COVID-19 in private hospitals/labs strikes at the Article 14 of the Constitution of India as being arbitrary and unreasonable,” it said and urged that the March 17 advisory be declared arbitrary.
It also sought a direction for ensuring that all tests relating to COVID-19 are conducted under the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) or ICMR accredited pathological labs.
It said ICMR should be directed to hold regular news briefings through national TV channels about the current situation on coronavirus and precautions to be taken by the citizens.
The plea also said that authorities must ensure adequate numbers of testing kits and centers for COVID-19 across the country.
With Agency inputs