The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered all coronavirus infection patients to be tested free of cost.
A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and S. Ravindra Bhat said, “The tests relating to COVID-19, whether in approved government laboratories or approved private laboratories, shall be free of cost. The respondents (Union of India) shall issue necessary direction in this regard immediately.”
The apex court order came on a petition filed by advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi challenging the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) advisory to fix maximum Rs 4,500 for corona test by private entities.
The petition also sought direction that all such tests be conducted by accredited pathological laboratories, and to strike down the ICMR advisory for allegedly being violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
“Private hospitals, including laboratories, have an important role to play in containing the scale of the pandemic by extending philanthropic services in the hour of national crisis. We thus are satisfied that the petitioner has made out a case for issuing a direction to the respondents to issue necessary direction to accredited private labs to conduct free of cost COVID-19 test”, said the court in an interim order.
Suggesting free tests, the petitioner also claimed that capping test charges at private labs violates the ideals and values of the Constitution. The top court observed whether the private laboratories carrying free of cost COVID-19 tests are entitled for any reimbursement of expenses incurred, would be looked into later.
“We further are of the view that tests relating to COVID-19 must be carried out in NABL (National Accreditation Board for Testing & Calibration Laboratories) accredited labs or any agencies approved by ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research)”, observed the top court.
The court observed that it finds prima facie substance in the submission of petitioner that at this time of national calamity, permitting private labs to charge Rs 4,500 for screening and confirmation test of COVID-19 may not be within the means of a large part of population of this country and no person can be deprived to undergo the COVID-19 test due to nonpayment of capped amount of Rs 4,500. The court noted that government laboratories are already conducting COVID-19 tests for free.