COVID-19 test kits should be made available urgently at the lowest possible price so that the virus can be controlled and people’s health can be safeguarded at a time when the country was facing an “unprecedented medical crisis”, the Delhi High Court has said.
Justice Najmi Waziri issued the direction to three private companies which had entered into an agreement to import 10 lakh test kits from China and distribute them here at a cost of Rs 600 each, the rate approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
The court said that in the “present extraordinary circumstances” when the country was going through an “unprecedented medical crisis”, with a disquiet over one’s safety and the economy at a standstill, the public interest must outweigh the private.
“The lis (litigation) between the parties (the three companies) should give way to the larger public good. In view of the above, the kits/tests should be sold at a price not beyond Rs 400 each,” it said.
However, the order would not affect price of the kits to be sold to ICMR and the Tamil Nadu government.
The order came on the plea of Rare Metabolics Life Sciences Pvt Ltd and Aark Pharmaceuticals which had entered into an agreement with Matrix Labs, the importer of the kits, to distribute the kits in India.
Rare Metabolics and Aark, the petitioner companies, moved the court seeking release of 7.24 lakh COVID-19 test kits from Matrix which was seeking full payment upfront before delivering them.
Out of the 7.24 lakh kits, five lakh were to be supplied to ICMR by Aark at a total cost of Rs 30 crore, the court was told.
According to the petition, the initial order was for 10 lakh kits of which five lakh were meant for ICMR.
Out of the five lakh meant for ICMR, 2.76 lakh had already been delivered, the plea said.
However, Matrix was saying it will not hand over the remaining 2.24 lakh kits, when they arrive in India, till it received full payment, the petition claimed.
The petitioner companies, represented by advocates Jayant Mehta and Anshumaan Sahni, said as per the agreement with Matrix, initial payment of Rs 12.75 crore was made for import of the five lakh test kits at Rs 600 each and remainder Rs 8.25 crore was to be paid after it received money from ICMR.
After hearing both sides, the court said in its order on Friday that the tests “are required in the country on urgent basis in view of the worldwide pandemic” and directed that the remaining 2.24 lakh kits would be delivered to ICMR the moment they arrive in India.
The court further directed that the remaining amount of Rs 8.25 crore (at Rs 600 per kit) to be paid to Matrix would be done within 24 hours of receiving payment from ICMR.
Of the remaining five lakh units, out of the initial order of 10 lakh, 50,000 has to be kept aside for Tamil Nadu government, the court said and added that remainder 4.5 lakh kits be sold at the price of Rs 400 to any government, governmental agency or private entity.
With the directions and observations, the bench disposed of the plea.