As we all are aware that Covid-19 has started showing initial trends of 3rd stage of spreading i.e. “Community Spreading”. In such condition there is every likelihood that number of patients may multiply like anything all over India or to a particular state or states. At this time, the present facilities of testing of Covid-19 may become insufficient so the Ministry of Health with the help of Indian Council for Medical Research had asked different companies/firms from all over India to come forward and submit their proposals for providing test kits for Covid-19. Further, various firms were authorized to do test of Covid-19. However, a recent notification states that maximum price has been fixed at Rs. 4500 for test of Covid-19. Tender to supply the Covid-19 test kits has been approved to a Gujarat based start-up CoSara.
Such an exorbitant price of test cannot be termed to be suitable for the people of India as more than half of Indian population lives under poverty line and doesn’t even have access to basic needs. They won’t be in position to conduct the test through a private lab which will charge amount as higher as Rs. 4500/-. It is worthwhile to mention here that WHO has already advised India to spread up tests in order to control the spread of Covid-19 to third stage. Such, a advice cannot be followed without easy access of test in private labs. If we see the proportion of spreading of the disease, the Covid-19 should be free and accessible to all even in Private Labs.
Why Covid-19 test should be free?
Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees right to life. It states as under:
“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.”
Further, Article 47 of the Constitution of India states as under:
“Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”
Further, Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights States:
(i) Everyone has the right to a standard of living for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(ii) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistances
Supreme Court of India from time to time has emphasized that Right to life includes right to enjoy good health and have a proper medical aid. Reliance can be made to the judgment of the Supreme Court in Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samithy & Ors. V. State of West Bengal & Anrs., (1996) 4 SCC 37 while widening the scope of Article 21 and the governments responsibility to provide medical aid to every person in the country, held that in a welfare state, the primary duty of the government is to secure the welfare of the people. Providing adequate medical facilities for the people is an obligation undertaken by the government in a welfare state. The government discharges this obligation by providing medical care to the persons seeking to avail of those facilities. Article 21 imposes an obligation on the State to safeguard the right to life of every person. Preservation of human life is thus, of paramount importance. The government hospitals run by the State are duly bound to extend medical assistance for preserving human life. Failure on the part of a government hospital to provide timely medical treatment to a person in need of such treatment, results in violation of his right of life guaranteed under Article 21. The petitioner should therefore, be suitably compensated for the breach of his right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. After due regard to the facts and circumstances of the case compensation of Rs. 25,000 was given.
It is no doubt true that financial resources are needed for providing free facilities. But at the same, it cannot be ignored that it is the constitutional obligation of the State to provide adequate medical services to the people. Whatever is necessary for this purpose has to be done. In the context of the constitutional obligation to provide free legal aid to a poor accused this Court has held that the state cannot avoid its constitutional obligation in that regard on account of financial constraints. Reliance may be placed to ‘Khatri (11) v. State of Bihar, 1981(1) SCC 627 at 631.
There are numerous pronouncements of similar nature, which are irrelevant to be discussed here. However, it is to be noted that Government is under Constitutional duty to give medical aid to the citizen of Country and since, the Covid-19 is declared epidemic, the duty of state is much far than what has been observed in the pronouncements of even provided in the Constitution. Thus, in the interest of society at large and in order to enable more and more people to come forward for their testing, it is necessary that the test should be cheaper and preferably free.