"State Governments Must Fix Reasonable Charges For Ambulance Services": Supreme Court

Sanya Talwar

11 Sep 2020 9:58 AM GMT

  • State Governments Must Fix Reasonable Charges For Ambulance Services: Supreme Court

    The Supreme Court on Friday took note of the affidavit filed by the Union of India regarding the Covid19 Response. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that every State is required to follow these guidelines and in substance the ambulance can be summoned in case of need."I'm not opposing this, this has to be done," said the law Officer in the plea seeking seeking directions to increase ambulance...

     The Supreme Court on Friday took note of the affidavit filed by the Union of India regarding the Covid19 Response. 

    Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that every State is required to follow these guidelines and in substance the ambulance can be summoned in case of need.

    "I'm not opposing this, this has to be done," said the law Officer in the plea seeking  seeking directions to increase ambulance services to cater to the surging covid positive numbers in the country.

    A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy & MR Shah observed that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has formulated India Covid19 Emergency Response & Health System Preparedness Package on 23rd April 2020 & an SOP has also been issued on March 29, 2020. 

    The bench directed,

    "It is obligatory for all states to follow the SOPs for all states and take appropriate measures regarding augmenting the capacity of ambulances & that a helping hand must be extended to needy persons who are required to be transported."

    Further to this, the bench noted that as pointed out by the petitioner, the SOP does not have guidelines with regard to pricing of ambulance charges. Thus, State Government's must fix a reasonable charge and all ambulance providers shall provide ambulance on that charge.

    On June 17, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had accepted notice on behalf of the Union of India.

    An NGO named "Earth" filed the instant plea through Advocate Dhruv Tamta.

    It seeks intervention of the court viz. directions to the Centre and State Governments of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Delhi for invocation of its powers under Section 63 & 65 of the Disaster Managament Act, in order to requisition more ambulances for enabling the transportation of COVID19 as well as non-COVID19 patients.

    "...use the powers available to the Respondent Authorities under section 63 and 65 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to increase the number of ambulance/ambulance services to cater to COVID and Non- COVID patients and to improve the efficiency of the existing ambulance services due to the steady increase in the number of COVID patients and the difficulties faced by the common man seeking medical treatment amidst the lockdown to travel to hospital for the same"

    The petitioner-NGO through its President contends that there is an acute shortage of ambulances in the entire country as well as mismanagement of ambulance services throughout the country.

    The plea also enunciates the necessity of formulating a "centralised mechanism and/or operation centres" in order to increase the number of ambulances by converting public transport vehicles into ambulances and by bringing all the ambulances/ambulance services under one roof making them accessible to the common man.

    "to requisition private vehicles such as all the private ambulances registered with all the Road Transport Offices along with vehicles used for public transport in order to satisfy the increasing demand of ambulances for COVID-19 as well as NON-COVID patients"

    Relying on several news reports, the plea states that this has led to many casualties PAN India and thus needs urgent attention and correction.

    "as the number of cases of COVID-19 patients are rising on a daily basis, the number of COVID-19 patients pan India as on 25th May, 2020 being 1,39,993. However, the Petitioners states that the number of ambulances provided for the transportation of COVID-19 and NON COVID patients have drastically fallen short, making it very difficult for a person to seek medical treatment during the prevalent lockdown"

    In light of the above, it is stated that even though the Directorate General of Health Services had prepared a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for transporting a suspected or confirmed Covid 19 cases and had called for independent empanelment of ambulances for meeting the growing demand, "the states have failed to fill in the gaps of ambulance services".

    Further to this, the plea states that apart from the shortage of ambulances, the ones which are available have been charging exorbitant rates "under the pretext of covering the cost of PPE's which are highly essential to be worn by every health care worker, drivers and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in order to protect themselves from spreading of the virus".

    "Due to such difficulties, it is the need of the hour to increase the number of 108 ambulances in all the states which should include even private vehicles used as ambulance especially for NON-COVID patients who can do with BLS (without ventilator) ambulances"

    The plea also highlights some innovative methods that have been adopted by some states to counter the growing demand for ambulance services and even puts for suggestions that the States could make use of.

    "....the Government of Haryana in collaboration with Ola started enabling emergency medical trips on its platform. The Petitioners submit that this new category within the app has been designed to provide convenient, reliable and safe transport to riders who need to access a hospital for medical purposes"

    "....the shortage of ambulance and the supporting staff has been undertaken by the State of Tamil Nadu by appointment of district coordinators who have been given the responsibility to coordinate with the government hospitals and primary health centers in finding ambulances for the patients at the earliest"

    In this backdrop, the petitioner avers that the Centre must use the power bestowed upon it in terms of Section 65 of the DMA, 2005 which is the "Power of requisition of resources, provisions, vehicles, etc., for rescue operations, etc" as well as under section 63 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 has powers to request officers and authority of the Union and State Governments to make themselves available to perform functions in connection with mitigation of the disaster.

    Additionally, the petition also seeks fixation of rates chargeable by ambulances per km with advisories for the staff in ambulance with respect to use of health safety equipments like PPE kits.

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