Denial Of Study Leave: Delhi Doctor Seeking MD Pediatrics Admission At PGI gets SC relief
Delhi: In a major relief, the Supreme Court has directed Lieutenant-Governor Delhi to grant study leave to a medico for joining the MD Paediatrics course in Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh (PGI).
Further directing the PGI Chandigarh to allow admission to the medico, the bench noted, "It would be a travesty of justice to deny relief to the Appellant, when the Appellant had to make a person sacrifice in the larger public interest, to serve the cause of humanity."
The apex court also pointed out that the policy of denying study leaves to doctors under the NCT of Delhi in the apprehension of a rise in COVID cases cannot continue and the policy should be thoroughly reviewed and modified.
Medical Dialogues had earlier reported the case when the Delhi High Court refused the petitioner's challenge against the Delhi government's decision of not granting study leave to a doctor for pursuing MD paediatrics at PGI Chandigarh.
Calling the petition infructuous, the high court had said that it cannot assume the role of an appellate authority against a decision taken at the highest level of the government. Aggrieved with the dismissal of the said writ petition by the High Court, he approached the Supreme Court.
Earlier, the petitioner submitted before the High Court that he satisfied the criteria laid down for grant of study leave in the office memorandum dated November 02, 2012. The Counsel for the petitioner submitted that he was granted permission to apply for and appear as sponsored candidate in the entrance examination INI CET 2020-21 for admission to post-graduate medical courses in Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh. He secured a rank of 15270 from amongst 80000 candidates, who appeared.
The petitioner, after offline counseling for MD/MS course at PGI, was allotted a seat in MD (Pediatrics) course. The DDU hospital where the petitioner is working even issued the required certificate and NOC to the petitioner. The certificate clearly states that the hospital did not need a substitute for the petitioner, contended the petitioner.
However, after completing due formalities, when the petitioner submitted his study leave as per the Rules, on December 31, 2020, the respondents (Lt Governor of Delhi) deliberately delayed in granting the same to the petitioner, the counsel contended.
In the meantime, the PGI extended the last date for accepting the seat allotment to the petitioner till January 18, 2021, with a condition that in case, the petitioner fails to get the study leave by then from the concerned authority, in that case, it shall cancel the seat and allot the same to some other candidate.
It was only on his visit to the secretariat on January 08, 2021 that he came to know that his application has not been forwarded. He was orally informed that he has not been granted study leave on account of COVID-19, the counsel submitted.
The govt counsel stated that according to Chapter VI, Rule 50 of Central Civil Services (Leave) Rules, 1972, the government servant is not entitled to get a study leave as a matter of right. As per the said Rule, the study leave may be granted to a Government servant with due regard to exigencies of public service. Even though a Medical officer may be granted study leave for prosecuting a course of post-graduate study in Medical Science but, in the exigencies of services the Competent Authority may deny the same.
Ms. Luthra appearing on behalf of the petitioner medico argued that the doctor had arbitrarily been declined Study Leave whereas many other doctors, similarly circumstanced as him, had been granted Study Leave to pursue PG courses, even after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. She further informed that in December/January/February, the daily figure of new COVID cases had declined substantially.
Terming the reasoning given by the govt as untenable, the counsel further submitted that similarly placed Doctors were granted study leave at the time when the number of COVID cases were at the peak and the maximum number of beds were assigned for COVID patients in the hospital
The counsel for the petitioner stated that the Appellant has duly completed five years of regular and continuous service with the Government of NCT of Delhi and is thus eligible to avail Study Leave to pursue the post graduate course, in accordance with the Directives and Guidelines of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The submission of the petitioner was contended by the govt. counsel citing COVID 19 pandemic and the exigencies of service as on or about 20th October 2020, a policy decision was taken, not to grant any further Study Leave to the doctors working in the hospitals of the Government of NCT of Delhi, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
" At the same time, this Court cannot be oblivious to the legitimate expectation of COVID-19 warriors like the Appellant to fair treatment, in conformity with the Service Rules by which they are governed, to enable them to pursue higher education and enhance their educational qualifications. Needless to mention that doctors with higher qualifications and special knowledge in specific areas would be an asset to the medical fraternity, as also to society", the court added.
"The policy decision taken on 20th October, 2020, not to grant further Study Leave to doctors working in hospitals under the Government of NCT of Delhi in the apprehension of rise in COVID cases, is obviously a temporary one. The policy cannot continue indefinitely irrespective of changes in circumstances. The policy has necessarily to be reviewed from time to time and relaxed and/or modified once there is a decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases in the NCT of Delhi", the court stated.
It would be unfair to deny the Appellant the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his efforts even now, when the COVID-19 situation has improved and is in control, only because the Respondents have not committed "apparent breach of rules and regulations" in refusing the Appellant Study Leave. This Court cannot fold its arms and remain a mute spectator to the plight of the Appellant. After all, "nothing rankles the heart more than a brooding sense of injustice".
Since the seat in the Post Graduate Course in PGI Chandigarh which remained unfilled due to the inability of the Appellant to join has been carried over to the July 2021 session which is yet to commence, and re-advertised, this Court deems it appropriate to direct the PGI, Chandigarh, being the Respondent No. 3 to admit the Appellant to the post graduate course scheduled to commence in July 2021, on the basis of INICET 2020, which he has successfully cleared. The Respondent No. 1 (LG) shall re-consider the application of the Appellant for Study Leave, taking into consideration the decline in COVID-19 cases in NCT of Delhi, and take a reasonable decision in favour of the Appellant. Unless there is a substantial rise in COVID-19 cases, the leave application of the Appellant shall not be declined.