The government has decided to provide free testing and treatment of COVID-19 seemingly under pressure from the Supreme Court (SC) that has already asked Health Minister Bhanubhakta Dhakal why he should not be punished in the contempt of court case for violating the Apex Court's order to provide free testing and treatment.
The Cabinet meeting on Monday has decided to provide free testing and treatment of COVID-19, according to a minister.
The Cabinet has also formed a secretary level committee for timely import of COVID-19 vaccines. The three-strong committee including secretaries from finance, foreign and health ministries will study about the available vaccines and prepare for the process to bring the vaccines to Nepal.
"The committee has been given responsibility to study about the vaccines manufactured by different countries, and to prepare process for bringing them to Nepal soon," the minister added.
The government's decision on free testing and treatment seems to have come under pressure from the judiciary and due to widespread criticism by the opposition parties and even some leaders in ruling CPN.
The SC on Thursday had issued a show-cause notice in the contempt of court case against Minister Dhakal for violating its order to provide free testing and treatment of COVID-19.
The SC had registered the contempt of court case against Prime Minister (PM) KP Sharma Oli and Health Minister Bhanubhakta Dhakal accusing them of violating the Apex Court's order for free testing and treatment of COVID-19 after removing the name of PM as defendant on Monday.
Advocates Lokendra Oli and Keshar Jung KC had taken the petition on November 1 but the SC refused to register it for the day when the registration process was almost complete.
The SC order for free treatment was issued on a petition which had the Health Ministry as the defendant. The contempt of court accusing violation of the order, however, had also made PM Oli the defendant as he headed the Cabinet that took the decision to charge fees for testing.
The SC argued that only the defendant named in the main case should be made the defendant in the contempt of court case and told the applicants to correct it adding it will be registered only if corrected.
Advocate Oli told Setopati that they have been forced to correct the petition as the SC refused to register it without correction. "We were told to correct the name of defendants and include only the name of defendant of the main case. We are mere individuals. We could not do anything as the whole institution was for that. We have registered the petition hoping at least the line minister will be punished," he added.
The SC had ordered on October 1 to not charge for testing and treatment of COVID-19 by government institutions. But the government on October 5 had decided to charge for COVID-19 treatment. Health Ministry Spokesperson Dr Jageshwore Gautam had briefed about the Cabinet decision to that regard during the daily press briefing on October.
Advocate Oli stressed that they had named PM Oli as a defendant as the Cabinet had taken the decision violating the court order. "It is not appropriate to say that the person whose decision obstructed implementation of the SC order cannot be made defendant but the SC did not agree," he added.
The SC issued the show-cause notice in the name of Minister Dhakal on the day it said its order instructing the government to provider free treatment for COVID-19 will not be reviewed.
A joint bench of Justices Kari Krishna Karki, Sapana Malla Pradhan and Purushottam Bhandari hearing the review petition filed by the Health Ministry said on Thursday that the order will not be reviewed as demanded by the applicant, the Apex Court posted in its website.
A bench of Justices Ananda Mohan Bhattarai and Tanka Bahadur Moktan on October 1 had issued a mandamus instructing the government hospitals to provide free testing and treatment of COVID-19.
Health Secretary Laxman Aryal had applied for review of the mandamus on November 2 arguing that it is against the principles propounded by the court itself. The review application mentions that the court issued the mandamus for free testing and treatment without considering the government's policy about insurance.
But the Apex Court refused to review its order which means the contempt of court case against Minister Dhakal will proceed.