AAP Delhi government hoodwinked public on capped private ambulance rates
The order to cap the charges levied by the private ambulances was issued by CATS, which has no power to issue an enforceable order. As of now, only DDMA can issue the order capping the ambulance rates
The Delhi government hoodwinked the public in the middle of the Covid-19 second wave in May with their capped ambulance rates. The order to cap the charges levied by private ambulance service providers for their services in Delhi was issued by the Centralised Accident and Trauma Services (CATS), but CATS being a society established under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, has no powers to issue such an order.
An order to cap ambulance rates can only be issued by any concerned department which is authorised to do so under any law. As of now, there are no laws in Delhi which regulate the operation of private ambulances. In the absence of such a law at present and with Covid-19 being a “notified disaster” under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, only the Delhi Disaster Management Authority can issue the order capping the ambulance rates.
According to the order issued by CATS, for patient transport ambulance, the maximum rate is Rs 1,500 per call up to 10km with Rs 100 per extra km above 10 km, Rs 2,000 for basic life support ambulance per call up to 10 km and Rs 100 per extra km above 10 km, Rs 4,000 for advanced life support ambulance per call up to 10 km and Rs 100 per extra km above 10 km. For advanced life support ambulance, the price cap also includes doctor charges.
The order had also stated that if anyone charged higher than these rates, in accordance with the applicable laws, the ambulance driver’s license and the registration of the vehicle would be cancelled, in addition to the vehicle being impounded.
The Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had tweeted, "It has come to our notice that private ambulance services in Delhi are charging illegitimately. To avoid this practise, Delhi govt has capped maximum prices that private ambulance services can charge. Strict actions will be taken against those who violate the order."
A letter has been sent to the Delhi Chief Secretary by public health activist Bhavreen Kandhari explaining the legal issues with the CATS order and requesting withdrawal of the CATS order. The complainant has also requested the government to issue an order under the appropriate Disaster Management Act.
“While volunteering as a part of citizen groups during Covid-19 second wave, we were overcharged multiple times. Once we had to take a patient from AIIMS to LNJP, the ambulance operator wanted to charge us Rs 28,000 and after a lot of bargaining, he reduced it to Rs 25,000. It was patient transport ambulance and the operator, according to this CATS order, should have charged us a maximum of Rs 1,500. This was not the only instance,” said Kandhari. It wasn’t even possible to file a police case. If the government refuses to issue an appropriate order to cap rates, Kandhari said she would be compelled to approach the High Court.
When the Delhi government states that CATS has issued this order, the problem remains that if a person wants to complain about the overcharging and goes to the police, the police cannot file a case because it is not an order issued by a public servant who has the authority to do so (Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code). In the absence of an order which is legally enforceable, the police will remain helpless.
The DDMA had, in fact, issued an order in June 2020 to enhance the CATS ambulance services in Delhi. The DDMA had requisitioned 328 ambulances last year along with all connected equipment and manpower to tide through the pandemic. It had also ordered that all departments, corporations and autonomous bodies under the Delhi government would provide at least one car with a driver at the disposal of CATS for transportation of patients during the pandemic.
In April-May, when the Delhi High Court bench headed by Justice Vipin Sanghi was hearing the Covid-19 grievance cases, several petitioners had pointed out various instances of overcharging by private ambulances. Then the High Court had asked the Delhi government to respond to the matter. That is when the CATS order was issued and brought to Court. Then too, Kandhari’s counsel Aditya N Prasad had apprised the court that this order wasn’t enforceable.
Then the Delhi government had submitted in Court that the order was issued by the special secretary with the approval of the Deputy Chief Minister and therefore has the authority of law. The Delhi government’s senior counsel Rahul Mehra had asserted that any violation of this order would be dealt strictly as per law. Contrary to his claims, there is no law that ambulance operators can be prosecuted under as there is no law they are violating by overcharging patients.