Observing that for justice, to be social, it “cannot be limited only to subserve interest of the affluent, the rich and the empowered”, the Patna High Court has taken serious exception to vacancy of 5,674 posts of doctors in rural, remote and difficult-to-access areas in Bihar.
The court ordered the state Chief Secretary to “ensure that vacancies in rural/remote/difficult areas are filled up to the maximum extent possible, either by transfer or expediting the process of recruitment”, once the pandemic situation normalises.
The court’s observations came on the Bihar government’s inability to fill pending vacancy of 8,768 doctors, out of 11,645 sanctioned posts. Of these, 5,647 vacancies are in rural or remote areas.
The direction of the division bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sanjay Kumar came while hearing a Letter of Patent Appeal on May 28. A copy of the order, given in a virtual hearing, has now been released.
On Friday, while hearing a PIL that sought directions to the state on tackling the pandemic, the division bench directed the Health Department to submit a report on how it has been fighting Covid-19.
The bench said: “It is brought to our notice that most patients are either being referred or are coming by their own at Patna. Is it for the reason that there is no facility at the district/sub-divisional level, or is it that none is informing/appraising of availability of such facility?”
The court asked the department to file details before the next date of hearing on August 7.
On the court’s May 28 order, a senior Health Department official said, “Sanctioned posts of doctors include about 1,000 specialists. But no appointment has been made so far…”
The court noted that the Health Department opted not to grant “incentive of weightage in marks to be added in computing the merit” on the basis of National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test to doctors posted in remote areas.
Observing that 5,674 out of total 8,768 vacancies “fall only in difficult/remote/rural areas”, the bench stated: “Can a welfare state adopt such a stand, more so in the absence of any plea or material to indicate absence of doctors or higher percentage of vacancy in urban areas…. If only such benefits are accorded, would doctors voluntary opt to serve the poor…living in the remotest corner of the state?” The court said social justice is a dynamic device to “mitigate sufferings of the poor, weak, Dalits, tribals and deprived sections of the society…”.
It said, “Right to good health is now a facet of right to life under Article 21, and when we talk of justice which is social, it would include opportunities of availing facilities and infrastructure in the health sector.”
It said, “Social security, just and humane conditions of work, and leisure to workman are part of his meaningful right to life and to achieve self-expression of his personality and enjoy the life with dignity…”
While discussing the state government’s stand on posting of doctors in rural areas, the court observed: “Shockingly, we find the State to have breached its dharma of acting in public interest for the benefit of teaming millions living in rural areas, but also not maintaining its neutrality, in accomplishment of constitutional goals and determination of rights inter se [among] private parties. The stand taken is both immoral and illegal. In fact, we find the department to have adopted a partisan approach, ensuring that the most marginalised and deprived ones are not benefitted of medical … facilities in rural parts.”