With the Supreme Court on Monday modifying the April 8 order which had directed that testing for COVID19 must be free of cost in both government & private laboratories, an Affidavit of The Indian Council Of Medical Research (ICMR) details the rationale behind capping of testing rates at Rs. 4500.
A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat passed the modified order in an application filed by Dr. Kaushal Kant, who said that direction for free testing will affect the functioning of private labs.
The Centre also supported the plea for modification of the order.
The ICMR stated that the decision to cap the rate of covid19 testing kits has been taken after "extensive deliberations in consultation with the National Task Force on all aspects" and that, in view of the Council, wherein high level experts were involved in its decision-making, it was most "prudent" to involve private laboratories (which should be and are NABL accredited labs).
"The National Task Force has been constituted in order to effectively and scientifically deal with the global challenge posed by this pandemic to save maximum lives by taking scientific decisions" the ICMR states in its Affidavit.
Moreover, the Affidavit rules out the lack of foreseeability of the Government while accounting for poor sections of the society and states that "the Prime Minister had already announced and implemented a scheme, popularly knows as the Ayushman Bharat Yojana, wherein health coverage is provided to 10.74 crore poor and vulnerable families (which means approximately 50 crore beneficiaries)".
Accordingly, beneficiaries under the Ayushman Bharat Yojana shall receive free of cost or "cash less" testing in private laboratories, merely on production of the said card and number of his/her identification, the ICMR averred.
Further, the Affidavit also laid down that the Government, while involving private laboratories in the process of testing had factored in the issue of "resources not being unlimited" as a predominant factor. In this backdrop, the affidavit subsequently emphasises on the fact that this did not mean that the Government lost sight of the poor sections of society.
"It is submitted that all tests in all Government laboratories throughout the country for all citizens (irrespective of the financial status) is free of cost......The capping of the testing at Rs. 4500 is mandated by the Government with a view to ensure that they do not charge more. Provision for Rs. 1500 for screening and Rs. 3000 for confirmative tests, if neccesary, is by way of a mandatory 'capping' providded by the Government so as to ensure that private laboratories do not chare more." the Affidavit earmarks.
Stating that India has been incredously pro-active and pre-emptive in its approach to fight the pandemic, the ICMR highlights the steps taken by the government to deal with the calamitous situation. The affidavit stated,
"It is submitted that even before our country diagnosed its first actual patient of Covid19 on 30.1.2020, we had testing capacity at National institute of Virology, Pune. The Government of India took pro-active and pre-emptive steps to immediately start enhancing laboratoru capacity of the country to meet with all future challenges from January 2020 itself. The capacity of one laboratory in Pune in January 2020 has been expanded to 139 Government laboratories as on 09.04.2020 where both screening test and confirmative test for covi-19 are being conducted"
The affidavit also enclosed a chart which laid down the action of the authorities in tackling the pandemic.
Further to this, the affidavit laid down that since covid testing kits require specialised essential parts that are imported, the peculiar situation requires that the price is capped, so that the "do not charge more and cannot exploit the citizens".
The affidavit also prayed for the court to not interfere in the aforementioned decision of the Executive, especially since there is "lack of statistical data" and also because the facts could not have been placed on record earlier, owing to notice not being issued in the petition at hand.
Subsequently, the Court has now said that free testing will be available to to persons eligible under Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana as already implemented by the Government of India, and any other category of economically weaker sections of the society as notified by the Government for free testing for COVID-19.
The Court also passed the following directions :
Click Here To Read Affidavit