Delhi Sets a Limit on Private Ambulances Charging “Exorbitant” Fees
The Delhi government has capped the maximum price private ambulance drivers and service providers can charge from patients during the pandemic — setting the range between Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 4,000 for up to a distance of 10 kilometers, with a surcharge applicable after that.
The notification comes in response to reports of ambulance drivers overcharging patients for ferrying them to hospitals or to crematoriums. “It has come to notice that some private ambulance drivers, service providers, are charging exorbitant rates in Delhi during the Covid-19 pandemic for transporting patients which is a matter of serious concern,” an order by the government noted. “Strict actions will be taken against those who violate the order,” Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also warned in a tweet.
The Delhi High Court also took note of the exploitative practice. “It is distressful to note that the charges levied are manifold times for more than what was levied for cremations and burials during normal times,” a bench comprising Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh stated. The high court judges were responding to a petition that mentioned emergency service carriers were “extorting money from hapless people,” and called for stringent measures to control the charges. The court directed the government yesterday to regulate ambulance charges and the rates of cremation/burial for those who have died due to Covid-19, Live Law reported.
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Ambulance services are responding to a peak in demand — for both ferrying patients to hospitals and carrying dead bodies to crematoriums — during the devastating second wave of Covid19. Private ambulances have also stepped in to assuage the workload of free public services, such as those provided by Mumbai’s BMC, and these were found to be charging heavy prices.
In normal times, ambulances usually charge Rs. 2000-3000 with oxygen facility, a range that has increased multifold now. Families have reported instances of overcharging over the last few weeks, with many paying almost Rs. 10,000 to cover a distance of 4-5 km; recently, an ambulance charged Rs. 42,000 for a distance of 25 km. Last week, the Noida police arrested a driver for charging Rs. 14,000 to ferry the body of a Covid19 victim from the hospital to the crematorium.
The plea in the Delhi High Court notably argued the “malpractice of undue profiteering in these difficult times aggravates the financial burden of the ordinary citizen and thereby hinders his right to life, liberty, and livelihood under Article 21 of the Constitution.”
Under the present order, the higher limit of charges includes all necessary services such as ambulance equipment, oxygen, PPE kit, gloves, mask, shield, sanitization, driver, emergency medical technician, and doctor. The consequence of not adhering to the regulated prices can result in the cancelation of the ambulance registration certificate, impounding of the ambulance, and revoking the drivers’ license.
Efforts were made to cap the prices of private ambulances last year, too, but lack of awareness and oversight plagued interventions at the time.