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Can State Fix RT-PCR Rates For Private Labs? Kerala High Court Refers Issue To Division Bench

Hannah M Varghese
12 March 2022 8:32 AM GMT
Can State Fix RT-PCR Rates For Private Labs? Kerala High Court Refers Issue To Division Bench
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The State was facing a pandemic; it did its best to see that the general public is not affected, the Court noted.

The Kerala High Court on Thursday referred the issue relating to the fixation of charges for the RT-PCR test, as he held a divergent view from another judge who ruled that the government had no power to regulate the price of the test to a Division Bench.Justice P.V. Kunhikrishnan opined that after going through the relevant statutory provisions that there is sufficient source of power to...

The Kerala High Court on Thursday referred the issue relating to the fixation of charges for the RT-PCR test, as he held a divergent view from another judge who ruled that the government had no power to regulate the price of the test to a Division Bench.

Justice P.V. Kunhikrishnan opined that after going through the relevant statutory provisions that there is sufficient source of power to the State to regulate the price rate of RT-PCR tests, thereby dissenting with a previous decision of a Single Judge.

"The State was facing a pandemic situation. The State Government was doing its level best to do the needful to see that the general public is not affected. In such situation, the Government took certain steps to control the price fixation of RT-PCR tests. In such situation, this Court ought not have taken such a stand is my considered view."

The Court was adjudicating upon petitions moved by diagnostic laboratories challenging a recent Government Order that brought down the price of RT PCR tests at all private laboratories across the State.

Advocate Paul Jacob appearing for the petitioners had contended that the State had no power to issue an order fixing rate for tests in private labs, thereby alleging that the said order was issued without jurisdiction and in violation of principles of natural justice.

This comes after a Single Judge's decision where after considering the relevant provisions, it was concluded that none of the statutory provisions relied on by the State authorises to issue an order controlling the rate at which the private laboratories should carry out the RT-PCR tests.

Bu this decision, the Single Judge had directed the State to pass appropriate orders in discussion with the private laboratories Management.after finding that the State Government has no source of power to decide the rate of RTPCR tests.

However, after examining the impugned judgment and the relevant legal provisions, Justice Kunhikrishnan disagreed with the finding about the source of power of the State to regulate the price rate of RT-PCR tests.

The Court explained that the Advocate General had produced a new Ordinance called the Kerala Public Health Ordinance, 2021 according to which the Madras Public Health Act, 1939 which was relied on in the impugned decision ceases to operate. Similarly, the Travancore-Cochin Public Health Act, 1955 was also repealed.

In the impugned decision, it was also held that testing of persons for Covid to ascertain is also an ancillary step for containing the epidemic, but that would take in only imposing conditions as to compulsorily testing etc., and not price fixation of such tests conducted by private individuals or private laboratories.

The Court opined that it could not agree with the said observation since the ultimate person affected by the fluctuation in the rate of the RT-PCR test was the poor citizens of the country.

"It is an admitted fact that the rate for RT-PCR tests was originally fixed as Rs.4,500/-. Thereafter, it was reduced to Rs.2700, then to Rs. 1,700/-. The ultimate person who affects because of the fluctuation in the rate of RT-PCR is the poor citizens of this country."

Noting that a detailed consideration of these aspects by a Division Bench was necessary, especially about the source of power of the State Government to regulate the price of RT-PCR tests, the matter was referred to a larger bench. 

Case Title: Accredited Molecular Testing Laboratories v. State of Kerala

Click Here To Read/Download The Order 

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