The Delhi High Court Monday asked the Centre why it can't fix a formula to determine the MRP of oxygen concentrators which are in demand for COVID-19 treatment as people were being charged exorbitantly.
The high court said it was not asking the government to fix a price in rupee or paisa, but to fix a principle on which oxygen concentrators will be charged and it should understand if this is not an extra ordinary circumstance where it should intervene, then what will be.
Asserting that there has to be a cap on the price of the product, it said, "there has to be some limit to it. It cannot be limitless. Tomorrow some Chinese manufacturer will say he will sell it at 5X rate, it cannot be allowed."
"As a government, it is your responsibility that people are actually able to afford the product and not have to pay through their nose. They can't be taken for a ride. Shortage of a product cannot be taken advantage of. Should you not think of the consumer," a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet said.
The bench asked why can't the government fix a formula to determine the price and said it cannot say that the demand is more and supply is less and everything is in flux so it can't do anything.
"This is not an answer. You have to fix it," it said and suggested of fixing a formula like landed price of the product plus duty charge (GST) plus 15 per cent profit margin.
The bench said there cannot be only demand and supply criteria and there has to be government intervention and a ceiling on price and it cannot throw its hands in the air and say it cannot be fixed.
Central government counsel Kirtiman Singh and Amit Mahajan said the landed price is ultimately determined by the exporter and said it was not possible for the government to fix the prices as there are different concentrators in the market with different prices, sizes and names.
The Centre's counsel sought some time to obtain further instructions on the issue and inform the court, which will now hear the matter on May 19.
The court was hearing a plea relating to fixation of price of oxygen concentrators by Delhi resident Manisha Chauhan who has also sought appointment of special public prosecutors for dealing with such cases before the special fast track courts.
Advocates Sanjeev Sagar and Nazia Parveen, appearing for Chauhan, had told the court that in the absence of a notification declaring medicines and equipment meant for COVID as essential commodities, these are being hoarded and black marketed.
During the hearing, the bench was told by the Centre that they take action against the manufacturers who are overcharging and have recovered huge money.
"You have to realize that India is probably the largest consumer (of oxygen concentrators). The government should understand if this is not an extra ordinary circumstance where it should intervene, then what will be," the bench said, adding that there has to be a cap on the price of the product.
The Centre's counsel said there is confusion on the maximum retail price (MRP) and prices keep on changing by the exporter and added that if the government fixes a price today, the suppliers may not supply whatever they are supplying currently.
The bench, however, asked the government to work on it and that it cannot throw its hands in the air and say it cannot be fixed.
The Centre's counsel also informed the court about a latest advisory by the government on minimum standards for oxygen concentrators to be used by patients.
The court said wide publicity be given to such advisories or else how the general public will know about it and efforts be made to educate people.
"What to buy, how to use, there should be information. You should come out with these ads. Why is that not happening in these times? Why should you not use audio-visual media? We had asked ICMR to make videos, short clips to educate people on these issues. Why should you not use Doordarshan an electronic media for it," the bench said.
The high court had earlier said that as early as June last year the process to fix prices of domestic and imported oxygen concentrators and other equipment was started, but was left unfinished.
"It is high time that MRP of oxygen concentrators and all of the other equipment in demand (for COVID-19 treatment) be fixed so that black marketing and hoarding is immediately stopped," it had said.