Brief facts of the case:
The petitioner, Mr Shashank Deo Sudhi has prayed for modification of the order dated 08.04.2020, intended to make testing in private Labs of COVID-19 free for the economically weaker sections of the society. Another interim application was filed by Mr Bijon Kumar Mishra sought directions to ensure the treatment of COVID-19 infected patients free of cost in all hospitals.
Arguments before the court:
Shri Mukul Rohatgi, the learned counsel who appeared on behalf of the several laboratories mainly contended that the fee was charged as prescribed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), that the ICMR fixed the fee at Rs. 4500/- on a moderate side to cover the expenses of the Labs for conducting the COVID-19 test. He further submits that the persons covered under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana or the Ayushman Bharat Yojana are already entitled to free of cost COVID-19 test. Providing any more free tests will cause a financial strain on the Labs. He finally submits that the kits utilised are imported kits involving substantial expenses. Shri Tushar Mehta, the learned Solicitor General of India submitted that the Government is taking all necessary steps for conducting COVID-19 tests by providing facilities to several Government laboratories and private laboratories. He finally submitted various statistics showing the facilitation of the Government schemes and conduction of COVID-19 tests.
Shri Shashank Deo Sudhi, the petitioner appearing in person mainly contended that there are large sections of the society who are unable to afford the payment of Rs. 4500/- for COVID-19 test. He submits that the Government has to take responsibility for getting every person tested and in the event of one person being tested positive, the entire family also requires testing. He also submits that Government hospitals are over-crowded hereby increasing the risk of spreading of the virus, and thus, free testing must be permitted in private Labs. The order dated 08.04.2020 further clarified that it never intended to make testing free for those who could afford the payment of a testing fee fixed by the ICMR for COVID-19.
Supreme Court’s View:
The Supreme Court is of the view that schemes like Ayushman Bharat Yojana or Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana provide for free testing of COVID-19 tests for one category of poor and vulnerable families which include almost all of the 50 crores beneficiaries. Looking at the plight of the economically weaker sections of the society, the Court is confident that the Government may consider to include any other categories of persons to claim the benefit of free testing of COVID-19. The Court is also conscious that framing of the scheme and implementation are in the Government domain and they are the best experts in this matter.
Supreme Court’s Decision:
It has suggested the Government of India and the Ministry of Family Welfare consider other categories as beneficiaries for free testing facilities of COVID-19 and to issue proper guidelines within one week. It has allowed private Labs to charge for the payment of testing of COVID-19 from persons capable of making the payment. The honourable Court also suggested the Government of India and the Ministry of Family Welfare to issue necessary guidelines for reimbursement of the cost of free testing of COVID-19 undertaken by private Labs. By view of the above reasoning, the court concluded that the application for modification was allowed.
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