SC orders govt to ensure free tests, treatment of coronavirus

COVID-19 is an infectious disease. As per legal provisions, everybody has the right to get free diagnosis, treatment for the disease


The Supreme Court has ordered the government to conduct PCR test of all people who want to undergo the test free of cost.

The verdict was delivered by a division bench of justices Ananda Mohan Bhattarai and Tanka Bahadur Moktan on October 1 in response to a writ petition filed by advocates Lokendra Oli and Keshar Jung KC. Full text of the verdict was released today.

The apex court observed that COVID-19 was an infectious disease and as per the legal provisions, everybody had the right to get free diagnosis and treatment for the disease.

It ordered that even those who were getting themselves tested as a requirement for visa should also not be charged.

The petitioners had argued that all citizens had the right to seek emergency services free of cost. Since COV- ID-19 is related to emergency care, the diagnosis and treatment of the disease should be free for all, they added.

“Nobody goes to undergo COVID-19 test out of desire.

They do so out of compulsion,” the court observed. It said the government’s decision not to test asymptomatic people was unconstitutional and illegal, as asymptomatic people could also transmit the disease to healthy people.

The apex court observed that since there were reports of people standing in queues for PCR test for hours, the government must make provisions for easing the situation. “If the government authorities reach a conclusion after preliminary investigation that immediate testing might not confirm or negate COVID-19 status, then they can issue tokens to those people and call them after a few days for testing. But they cannot send them to private laboratories or refuse to provide them service,” the court observed.

“Private institutions are also bound to respect citizens’ constitutional rights. If they do not do so, then the government can enforce such rights. In case the government also does not enforce such rights, then the court can issue appropriate orders to the government,” adds the SC.

“The primary duty to enforce constitutional rights rests with the government. The government should expand the scope of tests and provide testing service free of cost, as per the constitutional provision,” the court observed.

It also asked the government to include COVID-19 in the list of infectious diseases in the new Public Health Service Regulation.

It asked the government to ensure that people going for PCR test should not have to stand in a queue for more than 15 minutes. It also asked the government to provide test results as soon as possible and to improve infrastructure in hospitals to treat COV- ID-19 infected people, as the number of positive cases were rising sharply.

In a sharp rebuke to the government, the apex court said the constitution was not a document to be forgotten in times of disasters and difficulties.

“It is not a document that one has the liberty not to abide by its provisions. The constitution expects full honesty and commitment from office bearers of the state,” the court observed.

The court observed that its orders issued in response to COVID-19 related cases were purely the discharge of its duties and nothing else. “These orders are not any byproduct of judicial ambition or whims,” the court said. Had COVID-19 been controlled effectively, the court would not have to issue these orders.

Petitioners had argued that all citizens had the right to seek basic health services free of cost as per Section 3 (4) of the Public Health Service Act.