Bonded doctors’ resistance to join Covid duty ‘not very acceptable’: Gujarat High Court

The bench was hearing a petition moved by 251 specialist bonded doctors who have challenged the state government’s summoning of them for Covid-19 duty.

A division bench of the Gujarat High Court Thursday remarked that the bonded doctors’ resistance to join duty as sought for by the state, is “not very acceptable or warranted.”

The bench was hearing a petition moved by 251 specialist bonded doctors who have challenged the state government’s summoning of them for Covid-19 duty.

Supreme Court senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, who was representing the petitioners, submitted that while “in a time war, people can be called upon to perform their duties by virtue of law,” in the case of bonded doctors who were called for Covid-19 duty, “there is no law, no legislation.”

“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)?,” added Hegde.

The 251 petitioners have studied at government medical colleges, owing to which they had to sign a bond mandating rural service or paying the bond amount in case they opt out of rural service. However, owing to the pandemic, bonded doctors’ services were called for Covid-19 duty by the state government, via multiple circulars and were denied the petitioners the option to opt out of duty by paying the bond amount.

The division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala, however remarked, “More than the government, your fellow countrymen need you to serve at this time. How can you argue that you are not going to serve society?…Your resistance to not coming forward (to serve) is what bothers us…that is what is not very acceptable or warranted…at least come forward, tell the government (to) examine (individual) case…we are not appreciating this resistance caused by each and everyone of you…”

Advocate Amit Panchal, also representing the petitioners, added that 185 out of the 251 petitioner-doctors have served Covid-19 duty and others who haven’t were engaged in specialised fields.

“Now, if I’m serving as a specialist in paediatric 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,” added Panchal. The bench however clarified that it is “not testing who has been called and who hasn’t,” and is “only testing whether you have been rightly called or not (by the state government to render Covid-19 service)…”

Meanwhile, government pleader Manisha Shah submitted that while hearing suo motu PILs pertaining to Covid-19 matters, the state had time and again pointed out that “there is a dire shortage of specialists in the district and rural areas,” with as many as 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).”

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