Coronavirus testing
Coronavirus testing
Litigation News

Necessary that State takes a deeper look into the need for more COVID-19 tests on war-footing: Calcutta High Court

Meera Emmanuel

The Calcutta High Court on Friday made pertinent observations regarding the need to move towards more testing for COVID-19 “on war-footing”, while directing the State of West Bengal to respond on this aspect, among other concerns relating to the pandemic.

As stated in the order passed by Chief Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan and Justice Arjit Banerjee,

We are of the view that it is necessary that the official respondents give a deeper look to the requirement of more number of samples being collected and subjected to tests on war­footing.
Calcutta High Court

The Court was dealing with a batch PILs raising various prayers including those for more testing, rapid testing, improving health infrastructure, protection of medical professionals, and the supply of food to marginalised people including migrant workers, pregnant women, young mothers and children.

It was observed that while neither the petitioners nor the reports placed by the State seemed to indicate that there was community spread of COVID-19, “which has to be prevented at all costs”, the Court needed to be appraised by the State on how the screening for the coronavirus is being scaled up. In this regard, the order states,

“… we think that having regard to the fact that the ICMR testing protocol and WHO guidelines require adherence to effective screening on war­footing, we need to be told by the State as to the acceleration of the rate of sample collection and testing which is being obtained on the aforesaid basis. This has to be reckoned qua all mandatory yardsticks.”

The Court was told on Friday by Advocate General Kishore Dutta that the rate of testing in West Bengal is being scaled up as more laboratories are being approved for testing. It was submitted that at present there are 7 testing laboratories (5 Government and 2 private), and that over 300 samples are being tested daily. The figure is expected to increase, added reports filed by the State Health Ministry before the Court.

Moreover, information regarding the number of samples tested by ICMR approved testing laboratories are now uploaded on the State Health Ministry website, thereby making the information available in the public domain. This information is updated daily, the Court was informed.

In another notable submission, the State denied claims that there were deficiencies in the number of personal protective equipment kits (PPEs) available. It was submitted that there were a total of 2,58,805 PPEs, 1,52,460 N­95 masks, 4,53,775 two-­layered masks, 9,17,750 three-­layered masks, 4,75,000 gloves and 53,769 litres of sanitizer supplied to the health facilities in the State as on April 16.

The State had also raised objections regarding the maintainability of the matter, contending that same was politically motivated. The Court, however, responded that it is not looking into the alleged motives of the petitioner, given that there are larger issues raised which require serious consideration. The Court observed,

“… this is not a matter which should be thrown out at the threshold, since the question raised and which may arise on the basis of the materials on record prompts our conscience to have a deeper look into the materials that are being produced on behalf of the State Government in the form of affidavits as suggested by learned Advocate General.”

The Court added,

“We may here and now note that the virus which has now been named as COVID­19 makes no distinction on the basis of caste, creed, colour, sex, religion, domicile or geographical identity to affect any person in any economic strata. Therefore, we are of the view that the identifying characteristic to consider whether there is public interest in this litigation need not presently stall the further proceedings in the matter.”

Calcutta High Court

The State has now been asked to file an affidavit on the various issues raised, including on allegations concerning the improper certification and auditing before issuance of death certificates during the present time, the protection of health workers and the persons coming into regular close contact with them and the compliance of WHO and ICMR advisories while battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The matter has been posted to be taken up next on April 23.

[Read the order]

COVID-19 PILs - Testing etc. - Calcutta HC order.pdf
Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news