The Kerala High Court on Monday overturned the administration’s order. State reduced the price of RT PCR testing from ₹1,700 to 500 in private diagnostic labs around the state. However, the court suspended the order to facilitate discussions with the owner or representative of the laboratory.
Judge T R Ravi also ordered the state government, within three weeks, to make a new appeal on the price of RT PCR tests performed in private laboratories after discussion with the owner or representative of the laboratory.
The court rescinded the order to abeyance the immediate test cost reduction, to facilitate discussions with the owner or representative of the laboratory. The Court has made clear that an injunction should not be construed as an authorization to take enforcement action against applicants or persons in a similar situation.
The Court found that when the price of a test is fixed according to ICMR guidelines by a Supreme Court ruling, the state is necessarily obliged to discuss the matter with private laboratories. The order was issued without consultation with the private labs and even in a case where they were severely affected could not be legally supported.
The guidelines were adopted following a couple of writ petitions from accredited molecular testing labs and another private lab that is challenging the order to lower the price of RT PCR testing.
The petitioners argued that the order to reduce the price of RT PCR tests violated the principles of natural justice. The state government did not have the authority to issue an order to fix the price of the test. According to the petitioners, the average cost of conducting an RT PCR test according to current standards and quality standards is approximately ₹1500 per test. Indeed, modification of the test loads adversely affected the quality of the RT PCR assay. The cheapest test kits are available on the market, but they may not produce accurate results. The accuracy of the tests will be diluted by setting a cheaper price on the tests. They argued that the order had unilaterally fixed the price, without listening to them.
The state government has reported that the cost of kits and other consumables used for testing has dropped significantly. Claims by private laboratories that the only way forward is to use cheaper test kits are unacceptable. While the price in Punjab is only ₹415, ₹500 is charged in Maharashtra, Haryana, and Uttarakhand for the test. All laboratories, except for 10, accepted the tax rates fixed by the Government.