A few days ago, I visited the emergency ward of Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi and remained there for a few hours with a patient. Doctors at Safdarjung informed me that some COVID-19 patients were also present in the same hall and, considering the risk, I should leave as early as possible.
Knowing that a lot of COVID-19 infected people are asymptomatic, I decided to get myself tested instead of self-isolating for 14 days or carrying the risk of infecting others, if I happen to have contracted the infection at the hospital.
But, I was refused a COVID-19 test because I couldn’t provide my Aadhaar card details.
On 17 August, I telephoned a private hospital in Dwarka, New Delhi to enquire about the COVID-19 testing. I was told that the hospital had exhausted the testing kits and hence, testing was not being done.
Since I am a CGHS beneficiary, I got a referral from the CGHS wellness centre on 18 August and reached the hospital, which is on the CGHS panel.
On arrival, I found out that COVID-19 tests were being done on payment/credit basis and I had been apparently misguided over the telephone earlier.
However, the hospital staff at the counter insisted that my Aadhaar number must be provided in the ICMR Specimen Referral Form, though the form indicated that the field for this information was not mandatory, ie, it was not marked with an asterisk.
On expressing my inability to provide the information (as I did not carry my Aadhaar card), the staff refused to process my case further, even after I told them that I was there with the CGHS referral and a CGHS card.
Since the staff member refused to process the testing, I asked him to specify the reason on the form. He wrote: ‘Without Aadhaar number not providing so we have not done RT PCR COVID Test (sic).’
‘On Principle, I Don’t Intend to Provide My Aadhaar Number to Get COVID Test'
To my knowledge, mandatory possession of Aadhaar card for getting tested for COVID-19 exists only in Rajasthan and, there too, it is facing criticism and challenges as it forces a lot of people to remain untested and hinders the fight against COVID-19.
I have been unable to find any instruction of the central government or the Delhi government or the CGHS that prescribes Aadhaar card as mandatory for COVID-19 testing.
I raised my complaint via mail to CHGS, Delhi CMO, and the hospital. I received a prompt but unsatisfactory response from the CGHS.
Instead of pursuing the matter with the hospital concerned or initiating unambiguous clarification, they referred to a Delhi Disaster Management Authority communication dated 22 June 2020, which only instructs that a verified mobile phone number and a proof of identity/address should be obtained from a person being tested for COVID-19, to enable record-keeping.
Ignoring all the other facts and issues mentioned in my complaint, CGHS simply replied to me that the CGHS card does not contain the details to establish the identity/address of the beneficiary.
According to the list of acceptable documents as proof of identity and proof of address from the general public, CGHS card is a valid proof of address and identity.
Then why this ambiguity?
‘Insistence on Aadhaar Without Option is Arbitrary’
In this context, it is worth mentioning that the CGHS card is a government-issued document that does establish the identity of a person and the government incurs big expenditure towards medical treatment of the beneficiaries on the basis of these cards.
Address of the beneficiary is not indicated on the card but it is available in the official records and the individual can be traced on the basis of the CGHS card number.
If traceability of a COVID-tested person is a concern, then a CGHS card is as good an assurance as Aadhaar card or any other government-issued document.
In fact, a verifiable mobile number or a mobile number with one proof of address or identity is the only thing needed for the COVID-19 testing organised by the Delhi government. But, the ground reality is different.
There are numerous other documents which indicate the address of a person and the insistence on Aadhaar without option is arbitrary. The CGHS response to my complaint reinforces my opinion that illegitimate and arbitrary conditions are surreptitiously introduced with the tacit encouragement and lack of proper action by the authorities concerned.
The Supreme Court has also ruled from time to time that a service must not be denied to anyone for non-possession of Aadhaar card and multiple other options must be given to a person in lieu of Aadhaar card.
The court has also ruled that private institutions cannot insist on the collection of Aadhaar-related information. Even the CGHS department does not require any Aadhaar card number to issue the CGHS cards to its beneficiaries, then why is a private hospital insisting on it?
‘ID Proof Confusion is Causing Inconvenience to People, Amid a Pandemic’
In the case of COVID-19 tests, the informal instructions to insist on Aadhaar are likely to have emanated from the Delhi government, because the testing hospitals, labs, dispensaries are supposed to be working in liaison with that government.
The ICMR Specimen Referral Form may also be a tool to deliberately but implicitly force the beneficiaries to get an Aadhaar card and part with its details, while the authorities concerned keep the avenue open to disown any responsibility if legally challenged. Because, the form does not mark Aadhaar number field as mandatory but at the same time, it does not provide an option in lieu of Aadhaar for Indians and this deliberate or inadvertent omission is being used by the hospitals to insist on Aadhaar-related information.
On principle, I do not intend now to provide my Aadhaar number to get myself tested for COVID-19. Reports of deviation from the policy measures declared to fight COVID-19 and harassment of the patients by the health care organisations have regularly appeared in the media but any meaningful information about any effective action taken by the authorities in response to such reports is missing.
If I happen to have contracted COVID-19 from the emergency ward of Safdarjung Hospital and unknowingly spread it to others due to denial of a test, someone in the central government/ICMR/CGHS/Delhi government/concerned hospital will be responsible for it, though all of them may be easily able to shirk off their responsibility. That is a result of convenient ambiguities!
(The Quint also reached out to Delhi’s COVID-19 helpline number and was informed that Aadhaar card is necessary but failed to refer or provide guidelines stating the same. We also reached out to the concerned hospital and they continued to maintain that Aadhaar card is necessary for COVID-19 test.)