SC seeks Centre’s reply on plea for free testing of COVID-19 suspects

The petition questioned ICMR's advisory that capped ₹4,500 for tests in private hospitals or labs

The petitioners had challenged the constitutional validity of a legal provision dealing with criminal contempt, saying it was violative of freedom of speech and right to equality. File photo: PTI

As the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had capped the cost of testing for COVID-19 in private hospitals at ₹4,500, the Supreme Court on Friday (April 3) sought response from the Centre on a PIL seeking a direction to it to provide free testing facility for COVID-19 to all citizens.

A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta, in a hearing conducted through video conferencing, asked the petitioner, lawyer Shashank Deo Sudhi, to e-mail the copy of his plea to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre.

The lawyer 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”. It questioned the ICMR’s advisory that capped ₹4,500 for testing of COVID-19 in private hospitals or labs, including screening and confirmatory tests.

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“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.

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It also sought a direction for ensuring that all tests relating to COVID-19 are conducted under 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 centres for COVID-19 across the country.