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AAP govt resistance to monitoring of testing in Delhi disapproved by HC

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday disapproved of the AAP government “resistance” to monitoring of its COVID-19 testing strategy, saying the administration appears to have developed “cold feet” as it was questioning maintainability of a plea for augmenting of testing numbers in the national capital on “technical” grounds.

Delhi government contended before a bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad that once the main petition was disposed of, it could not have been revived by an entirely separate application which was a substantive petition in itself and was moved by a person who was not party to the initial plea.

It also argued that another bench, headed by Chief Justice D N Patel, in a separate matter, had expressed satisfaction with Delhi government”s efforts with regard to ramping up testing in the national capital and therefore, the instant matter may not be entertained any further.

Delhi government additional standing counsel Satyakam further told the court that the instant petition initially pertained only to expediting testing and declaration of results and was disposed of on May 4, but was later revived by an application which sought several reliefs including augmenting of testing in the national capital.

Disagreeing with the stand of the Delhi government, the bench said, “If you are going to get technical with us, we will take another recourse. We are not powerless. In the interests of citizens of Delhi, we have no hesitation in saying that we need to keep you on your toes and we will not let you rest on your laurels for a moment.”

“At this time, too much is at stake and if you think these technicalities will impress us, we are sorry. Do you think this will fetter us? Do you think under Article 226 we can be fettered from arriving at a conclusion in the best interests of the public at large? Why is the Delhi government getting cold feet? That is the impression we are getting. Why cold feet now,” the court asked.

Satyakam denied that the Delhi government has developed any cold feet and said that this stand was taken by it earlier also.

Petitioner-lawyer Rakesh Malhotra, who moved the initial disposed of petition and is now representing the applicant, opposed the Delhi government stand.

The court further noted that the order passed by the bench headed by the Chief Justice related to “preparedness of the Delhi government to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic on several aspects including, providing adequate helpline numbers, sufficient numbers of ambulances, ensuring availability of Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits and testing through RAT at government hospitals and dispensaries”.

However, in the instant matter, the focus of the court has been on ramping up testing in Delhi not just through RAT, but also through RT-PCR, CB-NAAT and true NAT, it said.

RT/PCR, short for Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction, is a laboratory technique widely used in the diagnosis of genetic diseases and to measure gene expression in research.

Cartridge-based nucleic acid amplification test (CBNAAT) is a recently introduced polymerase chain raction (PCR) based method for detection of TB.

TrueNat is an indigenously developed portable version of CBNAAT and was also meant for detecting tuberculosis (TB).

The bench said that in this background, “the resistance of the Delhi government to this court monitoring the progress made in ramping up the testing, is incomprehensible when admittedly, this is not an adversarial litigation”.

It further said,”..it is purely in the interest of the citizens of Delhi that all government departments and agencies act in tandem and work collectively to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic for larger public good.

“The technical plea taken by the GNCTD on the maintainability of an application in a disposed of matter would have engaged this court had it been a routine litigation between two private parties. This is not so here.”

The court further said that in public interest litigations, it can monitor the steps taken by the authorities to ensure that its directions are being implemented in letter and spirit.

“The history of the instant case which has been elaborated hereinabove shows that this court in the instant writ petition is monitoring the steps taken by the authorities for conducting tests for identifying COVID-19 patients to ensure that the pandemic does not spread.

“The present petition is not in the nature of adversarial litigation and has been filed for a specific purpose and to serve public cause. The jurisdiction of the High Court to continuously monitor the situation even in a disposed of petition cannot be curtailed by taking such a technical plea,” the bench said and declined to close the matter as requested by the Delhi government.

It, thereafter, proceeded to examine the Delhi government status report which claimed that its testing numbers of 27,604 RT/PCR tests per million was double the national average of 13,647 tests per million.

Delhi government also told the bench about the second round of sero surveillance that it has initiated, independent of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), in the national capital since August 1.

Satyakam also told the court that RAT testing numbers cited in his status report referred to tests carried out in June at hotspots, containment zones and healthcare settings and for other areas RT/PCR tests were conducted as per ICMR advisories.

After perusing the status report, the court asked the Delhi government to seek clarification from the ICMR with regard to RAT and RT/PCR testing norms and to “strictly follow” the same, instead of “interpreting” the guidelines “contrary to what ICMR has proposed”.

After obtaining the necessary clarification, the Delhi government will have to file a fresh status report, the bench said and listed the matter for further hearing on August 19. – PTI