Illegal labs collecting COVID test samples sans license: HC seeks Delhi, Haryana police reply
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 tests.
New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Tuesday directed the police of Delhi and Haryana to file reports on the action taken by them on a complaint received by the AAP government regarding an online health service aggregator allegedly collecting samples for COVID-19 tests without a license.
The court said "you can't have people being cheated" and added that it is open for the government to identify more such private laboratories which are conducting COVID-19 tests without licenses.
Justice Najmi Waziri issued notices to the Delhi Police and Gurgaon Police and asked them to file replies within two weeks and listed the matter for further hearing on October 26.
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 high court was informed by Delhi government counsel that a complaint was made by the Delhi Health Department to the Commissioners of Delhi Police and Gurgaon Police against one entity identified by it which had violated the COVID-19 norms by illegally collecting samples for coronavirus tests, including RT-PCR.
The Delhi government said the entity was found in violation of the confidentiality and privacy law by sharing patient's information as stated on its website. The Delhi government counsel said though the complaint was made on June 24, they have not received any response or update from the two police departments.
When the court asked as to whose responsibility it is to monitor the online health service aggregators, the Centre's counsel said Delhi government was responsible for it while the state government's advocate said it was not fully its responsibility and it was not that the state was sitting idle and doing nothing.
To this, the court said the approach is not correct and it is like a baby is delivered but nobody is ready to take care of it.
Advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi, representing petitioner Dr Rohit Jain, urged the 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 ICMR, in its affidavit filed in response to the petition, has said that National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) certification is must for enrollment 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.
Regarding the online health service aggregators, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has said monitoring of their activities does not come under its purview.
The ICMR has said in its affidavit, filed through central government standing counsel Anurag Ahluwalia, that as on August 16, 2021, it has 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.
It 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. NABL certification is must for enrollment of private labs for testing. NABL certifies the readiness of labs to undertake molecular testing of SARS-Cov-2 before ICMR onboards them for testing. Through these parameters, it is ensured that labs meet the statutory standards for COVID-19 testing," the affidavit said.
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.
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.