More than the Govt, Your Fellow Countrymen Need You: Gujarat HC expresses anguish over bond service reluctance by 251 doctors
Ahmedabad: Noting that the bonded doctors could have accepted the service and then expressed their preferences of working before the Government, the Gujarat High Court on Thursday observed that it was disturbed by the unwillingness on the part of the doctors to join the service at the time of need.
The High Court bench comprising of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala noted that the resistance on the part of the doctors in not even coming forward is troubling. They observed at this outset, "More than the government, your fellow countrymen need that you come and serve this time. Can you say that I will not serve the society when I have taken the benefits... and today when government is making request for one-year service and you are saying no."
"Your resistance of not even coming forward is what troubles us…at least tell the government that I am not running away from serving the government, why showing the resistance and not coming forward is not very acceptable and warranted," the court further added.
The case concerned the bonded doctors who had studied in the Government medical colleges and had signed an undertaking at the time of their admission that after completing the course they would either join the rural service for one year as per the bond, or pay the amount mentioned in the contract. Considering the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Government had repeatedly called its bonded doctors for service, while some of them opted to pay the amount and get relieved of their responsibilities.
Medical Dialogues had earlier reported that aiming to deal with the rapid surge of Covid-19 cases in the State, the Gujarat Health Department on May 4 had issued orders calling 1,415 bonded expert doctors to join Covid-19 duty and for their appointment as Class-1 posts of experts from May 7.
However, not getting a satisfactory response from the doctors, the commissioner of health had issued an order on June 20 to all district health officers and medical officers of the municipal corporations, asking them to direct concerned police stations to lodge FIRs against 799 bonded doctors who had failed to comply with the orders under provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.
Afterward, challenging such a move on the part of the Government, around 251 postgraduate and super-speciality doctors practising in Gujarat had moved the Gujarat High Court.
As per the latest media report by Indian Express, during the hearing of the case on Thursday, government pleader Manisha Shah submitted pointed out the acute shortage of specialists in the district and rural areas with around 1,000 vacancies.
"The third wave, we hope it never happens, but the manner in which the second wave came, we are invoking these bonds to ensure our preparedness to meet any exigency or any critical situation that may come. Yes, the bond stipulates that you either pay up the money or render your service…Most of them (petitioners) have been issued orders on as many as three to four occasions…we have invoked section 2 and 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act and at this critical situation, we are left with no option but to resort to this (proceed with criminal action)," she argued.
On the other hand, Supreme Court senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing on the behalf of the bonded doctors, submitted before the Court that while "in a time war, people can be called upon to perform their duties by virtue of law," in the case of these bonded doctors, "there is no law, no legislation," which could call them for Covid-19 duties.
Times of India adds that citing an example of famous boxer Mohammed Ali, who had refused to draft himself for military service and invited the wrath of the US government, Hegde contended that although Ali was a conscientious objector, but there is no law here binding the doctors. As per the law, the doctors could either serve their duties or pay the amount mentioned in the bond.
Questioning the Government asking them to join duties in such a situation, Hegde was quoted saying by Indian Express, "There is a bond to which I was being held. I gave my word that I will serve or I'll pay this amount. Now, because it is a time of need of the government, can the government say (to mandatorily join Covid-19 duty)?"
At this outset, the bench remarked, "More than the government, your fellow countrymen need that you come and serve this time. Can you say that I will not serve the society when I have taken the benefits... and today when government is making request for one-year service and you are saying no."
Meanwhile, advocate Amit Panchal, who was also representing the petitioners, submitted before the Court that 185 out of 251 bonded doctors who have approached the court have already served Covid duties and the rest of them were engaged in specialized fields.
"Now, if I'm serving as a specialist in pediatric oncology, do I leave that, abandon those patients and serve in a (Covid-19) ward? The grievance is you do not call anyone from any private medical college, they are also doctors," he argued.
The bench then clarified that it was not concerned with who were called and who weren't, but it was actually "testing whether you have been rightly called or not (by the state government to render Covid-19 service)…"
When advocate Hegde pointed out that many of these doctors were serving patients in their respective fields and submitted that leaving those patients in need and joining bond service would be injustice to the society, the Court noted that the doctors could join the service at first and challenge it afterward.
"Your resistance of not even coming forward is what troubles us…at least tell the government that I am not running away from serving the government, why showing the resistance and not coming forward is not very acceptable and warranted," noted the bench adding that the doctors could have expressed their preferences for Government's consideration.