Gujarat HC directs State not to harass, pressurize MBBS students to join Covid-19 duty
Ahmedabad: Disposing of a petition filed by 307 MBBS pass-outs, the Gujarat High Court, on Saturday, has directed the State Government not to 'harass' the medicos unwilling to join the Covid-19 duties.
The HC bench consisting of Chief Justice Vikram Nath, and Justice JB Pardiwala has criticized the involvement of the Police in the matter and has directed the Government to amend the 123-year-old Epidemic Diseases Act and strike a balance regarding the issue.
The verdict of HC, a detailed copy of which is awaited, comes after more than 300 MBBS passed out students moved the High Court challenging a notification issued by the State Government on November 20, 2020. The State Health Commissioner Jai Prakash Shivhare, via that November notification had directed 925 MBBS passed out students (yet to appear for the rural bond service) to mark themselves present for service before the Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner for Covid-19 duty within the next two days.
As per the latest media report by the Ahmedabad Mirror, the students (Amit Jivrajani and 306 others) approached the HC through advocate Digant Kakkad and Senior counsel Anshin Desai. In their petition, the medicos stated that they had approached their colleges with a request to be free from the Rural Bond Service against the payment of bond money. However, the college authorities allegedly rejected the request.
The petition further mentioned that Collector offices in Ahmedabad, Rajkot, and Jamnagar have been allegedly forcing the students to sign an undertaking to join the service. The Collector offices were using various types of state machinery including police for the purpose.
The student further alleged that they were threatened and humiliated. Coercion was also used to force them to sign the undertaking, stated the petition. Some students alleged that they were called late in the evening and were being threatened with a police case if they denied signing, reports the daily.
Indian Express adds that Counsel for the students Anshin Desai argued before the Court that although the State Government had issued the notification under the provisions of Epidemic Diseases Act, it could by no means force, the students join the bonded service against their will. He further submitted that if the State Government would issue such a notification that needed to be under the ambit of the National Disaster Management Act.
The students pleaded with the court that with months left to prepare for the NEET (PG), which generally takes place in February-end or March-beginning, they could not afford to be present on duty.
Disposing of the petition, the court directed the State Government to "strike a balance so as to protect the interests of the students as they want to appear and prepare for NEET-PG."
It further observed,
"Definitely the police will not involve itself if at all students decide not to report for duty. Police will involve themselves if the authority concerned deems it fit to take appropriate action in accordance with the law. The 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."
However, Ahmedabad Mirror adds that the court expressed concern over the rising grip of the pandemic once again, and has directed the State Government to look for the scopes of the amendments of the Epidemic Diseases Act.
The court noted,
"We have also taken the opportunity to remind the state government that Covid is gaining momentum again. We want the government and all other authorities to be ready on all fronts. The Epidemic Disease Act is of 1897, look into it and amend it."