The Delhi High Court Tuesday said the ICMR should look into the complaints received against private pathology laboratories and revoke licences in case of breach of conditions.
It is the ICMR which gives licences to the labs and it cannot be sitting in ivory towers, the high court said.
“You have to look into it. You give licences to them. The whole year has gone by. The whole nation is suffering. The whole NCR is suffering,” Justice Najmi Waziri said.
The high court was hearing a plea seeking contempt action against the authorities for not adhering to the Delhi High Court’s earlier direction to take action against online health service aggregators which are operating illegally and collecting samples for COVID-19 tests.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said that monitoring of the activities of online health service aggregators does not come under its purview.
Advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi, representing petitioner Dr Rohit Jain, argued that common people are dying and the ICMR is setting guidelines but says that the issue does not pertain to the research body.
To this, central government standing counsel Anurag Ahluwalia, appearing for ICMR, responded that they have only said they are not monitoring online health aggregators.
He also said that whenever they receive complaints against private labs, they look into it and take action.
The court, which heard arguments for some time, listed the matter for further proceedings on September 14.
“These standards have to be met. You ICMR give licences to run the labs. You set the standards and give licences,” it said.
The ICMR, in its affidavit filed in response to the contempt petition, has said the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) certification is must for enrolment of private labs for COVID-19 testing and NABL certifies the readiness of labs to undertake molecular testing ofRS-Cov-2 before the research body allows them for testing.
The ICMR has said that as of August 16, 2021, it had approved 134 (35 government and 99 private) labs in Delhi for RT-PCR, TrueNat, CBNAAT and other M-NAT testing platforms and the information is also available on its website.
The affidavit, filed by Dr R Lakshminarayanan, Deputy Director General (Admin), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has said the ICMR has laid down SOPs and standard guidance for setting up COVID-19 testing labs and 14 mentor institutes have been set up in India to guide the labs on implementing these SOPs and set up a testing lab.
For Delhi, the mentor institute is AIIMS, Delhi, it has said, adding that through these parameters, it is ensured that labs meet the statutory standards for COVID-19 testing.
Jain has urged the high court to allow the contempt plea and restrain the illegal online health service aggregators, which are not authorised to collect diagnostic samples for COVID-19 tests, from further committing contempt of order passed by the court last year.
The Supreme Court had on April 8, 2020 directed that COVID-19 tests must be carried out in NABL-accredited labs or any agencies approved by the WHO or ICMR.
A division bench of the high court, on August 6, 2020 had directed the AAP government to take action in accordance with law against online health service aggregators, who are operating illegally without any registration, after hearing all the stakeholders.
The petition claimed that this rampant illegal sample collection by online health service aggregators is leading to false negative COVID-19 results thereby letting loose the coronavirus positive patients in the society and hence unfortunately allowing them to transmit or spread the virus.
It said there is an urgent need to restrain the online health aggregators from collecting the diagnostic samples illegally to save the innocent people in the interest of the public at large and action may be initiated against them as directed by the court on August 6 last year.
The petition has sought initiation of contempt proceedings against the top government officials and others for alleged non-compliance of the high court’s order asking to take action and regulate online pathological labs.
The petitioner has sought contempt action against Delhi Chief Secretary, Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Directors General of Health Service and ICMR for allegedly not complying with the high court’s last year order.
Sudhi has submitted that the online aggregators like ‘healthian’ and ‘1 mg’ are illegally operating in Delhi.
He has claimed that these online aggregators are playing with the lives of the common people and must be banned.
Several illegal online aggregators are advertising freely by offering attractive packages for body check-ups including the test for COVID-19 through SMSs or various online modes, the plea said, adding that the petitioner has received advertisements of online aggregators through e-mail for getting tested.
The high court’s August 6, 2020 direction had come while disposing of a PIL seeking a ban on allegedly illegal online health service aggregators from collecting diagnostic samples for testing of COVID-19 infection.
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