February 21, 2021 12:36:44 am
The Gujarat High Court Saturday disposed of a petition challenging a state health department notification calling more than 900 MBBS bonded doctors for mandatory Covid-19 duty while observing the “police will not involve itself if at all students decide not to report for duty”. The police, the division bench said, can involve itself in such matters only if the authority concerned “deemed it fit to take appropriate action in accordance with law”.
Over 300 MBBS bonded doctors had moved the high court challenging the November 20, 2020, notification issued by the state Health Commissioner, Jai Prakash Shivhare, directing 925 medical students, who had cleared MBBS but had not yet appeared for their compulsory rural bond service, to present themselves for service before the Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner for Covid-19 duty in the next two days.
Gujarat government medical colleges require their students to serve a specific period as rural tenure once they pass out against a bond amount to which they’re contractually bound.
Senior counsel Anshin Desai, representing the bonded doctors, had argued the health department had issued the notification under the provisions of Epidemic Diseases Act but, in effect, no provision under the said Act empowered the state government to compulsorily call the bonded doctors on duty. Desai said if indeed such a notification has to be brought in, it must be under the ambit of the National Disaster Management Act. Desai submitted the way the MBBS bonded doctors were called for duty went against the contractual agreement as the bonded doctors were not permitted to pay in lieu of the rural tenure, as is otherwise provisioned for.
The petitioners had submitted that with only months left to prepare for NEET (PG) courses — which were expected to take place in February-end or March-beginning — they were asked to report on duty compulsorily. Additionally, the bonded doctors said, they were harassed by the police and the revenue officials, with many being served with the state’s orders at night and coerced to sign on the same.
In its verdict Saturday, a detailed order of which is awaited, the division bench said, “Definitely the police will not involve itself if at all students decide not to report for duty. Police will involve itself if the authority concerned deems it fit to take appropriate action in accordance with law. Apprehension expressed by you (petitioner-bonded doctors) that the police are calling us, harassing us, coercing us, that we have taken care of, that it should not happen.”
The bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala also suggested the state government to look into the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, so as to “amend it accordingly”. Being a central Act, the state can conduct a consultation and send its recommendation to the Centre.
The court added while the bench had strived to “strike a balance so as to protect the interests of the students as they want to appear and prepare for NEET-PG”, it was expected that “the students also cooperate”.
The bench also reminded the state government that Covid-19 was again gaining momentum. “We want the government and all other authorities to be ready on all fronts because we don’t know how this virus is going to act again,” Justice Pardiwala said.
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