Plea in SC seeks modification of free corona test order

supreme court

A doctor moved the Supreme Court on Saturday to seek modification of a court order directing private laboratories to conduct COVID-19 test for free, and sought the test should be free only for EWS persons with immediate reimbursement by the government.

Petitioner Dr Kaushal Kant Mishra, a senior orthopaedic surgeon, pleaded through advocate Pooja Dhar that at a time when corona testing across the country has to be ramped up since India has entered the most critical phase, the private labs have been burdened with free tests.

He argued that this has been done by ignoring the fact that the few pathogen labs are well equipped at this hour of crisis.

The plea claimed that the move would actually disincentivize private labs to continue to function.

“The present coronavirus numbers in India are gradually increasing, and are likely to see a severe spike in the coming weeks. This is the point at which testing capacities must be at their maximum so that the governmental efforts to contain its spread can be suitably supplemented,” the petitioner contended.

Dr Mishra sought modification of the April 8 order and urged the top court to allow private labs to carry out COVID-19 test as per rates stipulated in the ICMR advisory (Rs 4,500), but allowing free test for below poverty line or EWS categories with immediate reimbursement by the government.

He cited that in the UK, private labs are charging $425 per test or Rs 32,500.

“In addition, it is necessary that all (state) governments start settin up pathogen labs in municipal and panchayat areas so that free tests by the government concerned can be increased,” said the plea.

The plea contended that government sources have been quoted as saying that the coming week is a make-or-break week as far as coronavirus testing is concerned, and pointed out that the private labs have far greater mobility and reach because they are making money.

On April 8, a bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Ravindra Bhat said: “The tests related to COVID-19, whether in approved government laboratories or approved private laboratories shall be free of cost. The respondents (Union of India) shall issue necessary direction in this regard immediately.”

The apex court order came on a petition filed by advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi challenging the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) advisory to fix maximum Rs 4,500 for corona test by private entities.

The petitioner had also sought direction that all such tests be conducted by accredited pathological laboratories, and to strike down the ICMR advisory for allegedly being violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.