ICMR cannot sit in ivory towers after giving license to private labs: Delhi HC
New Delhi: Taking note of the fact that Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is the authority that gives licences to private laboratories, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday said that ICMR cannot be sitting in ivory towers and not take action against those laboratories which are operating illegally and collecting samples for COVID-19 tests.
The Court directed ICMR, the apex body of biomedical research, to look into complaints received against private pathology laboratories and revoke licences in case of breach of conditions.
It is the ICMR that gives licenses to the labs and it cannot be sitting in ivory towers, the high court was quoted saying by PTI.
"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," the bench comprising of 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.
Petitioner has alleged that the top official of respondents is equally responsible for restraining the illegal practices of online aggregators which are freely being carried out under the eyes of these officials in utter violations of the rules and regulations laid down by statutes and the guidelines issued by the respondents from time to time ever since the outbreak of deadly coronavirus.
"Several illegal online aggregators are advertising freely by offering attractive packages for the body check-up, including COVID-19 test through SMSs or various online modes. The applicant/petitioner has received an advertisement of the online aggregator through e-mail for getting tested," the plea stated as reported by ANI.
It had also submitted that it is an extremely serious issue that the online aggregators are operating without any authorisation and approval. Besides, these online aggregators are not accredited by any accreditation agency. The existence of such illegal online diagnostic aggregators is posing a serious health challenge as a large number of people are falling prey to the attractive health packages being offered by these illegal online aggregators, states the plea.
"The acts of respondents clearly constitute the contempt of the court and appropriate contempt proceedings should be initiated against them for acting against the order dated August 6, last year of this court. The respondent's officials have been playing with precious lives of innocent people by promoting unqualified, unregistered medical practitioners to sign the pathological report and exposing the common people to the mercy of untrained and highly incompetent medical/pathological professional," the plea said.
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 counsel for the petitioner has also submitted that the online aggregators like ''healthian'' and ''1 mg'' are illegally operating in Delhi.
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.
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 of SARS-Cov-2 before the research body allows them for testing.
"NABL certification is a must for enrollment of private labs for testing. NABL certifies the readiness of labs to undertake molecular testing of SARS-Cov2 before ICMR onboards them for testing. Through these parameters, it is ensured that labs meet the statutory standards for COVID-19 testing," ICMR said in its affidavit.
However, it also clarified that monitoring of the activities of online health service aggregators does not come under its purview.
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.
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.
He also alleged that no action has been taken by the government and in fact, there is a grave violation of the Supreme Court order. He had also added that contempt is remedial jurisprudence and not adversarial and public welfare is the highest law.
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.
Taking note of the fact that ICMR gives licenses to private labs, a bench of Justice Najmi Waziri said ICMR should look into the complaints received against private pathology laboratories and opined that ICMR can revoke licences if there is any breach of conditions.
"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 as the court listed the matter for further hearing for next week.