Country can't have dissatisfied soldiers: Supreme Court on doctors' woes
On reports that doctors haven't received salaries for months, the Supreme Court on Friday said the country can't afford to have "dissatisfied soldiers" in the raging war against coronavirus. The top court told the Centre it can't work half-heartedly and has to go an extra mile to address their concerns. The matter has now been listed for June 17. Here's what went down.
A bench including Justices MR Shah, Ashok Bhushan, and SK Kaul heard a plea seeking separate accommodation for doctors and nurses near hospitals. The plea said frontline workers must be kept in hotels/guest houses for quarantine after 7-14 days of duty, to reduce their risk and exposure to their families. This quarantine rule was followed earlier but was dismissed soon, prompting the plea.
Responding to this plea, the government had earlier told the top court that it was ultimately the doctors' responsibility to protect themselves from the highly-contagious disease. "It is their responsibility to train themselves and take all measures in preventing the infection," the government had said. The Centre said the petitioner gave no "empirical evidence" proving that doctors were contracting infection despite wearing PPEs.
Lambasting Centre, petitioner's lawyer KV Viswanathan said their response was not satisfactory and suggestions regarding protecting the frontline workers from the virus weren't provided. Pointing out towards the SOPs for workers, he asked, "Nodal officer will check if exposure is high or low risk. How can the exposure be checked like this?" Subsequently, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta sought time to reply to the counter.
The distinction that only high-risk cases would be quarantined doesn't make sense, Viswanathan said. "If they test positive and remain asymptomatic then they will follow mild protocol. This distinction is problematic," he added, and the bench concurred saying the court can't decide what is high and what is low risk. Mehta asked Viswanathan to take up suggestions, if any, with the expert body.
Mehta also said WHO, ICMR, and experts' suggestions were taken while formulating the guidelines, but the bench remained unimpressed. Justice Bhushan remarked that he needs to check what the petitioners want and fill the gap. "We cannot have dissatisfied soldiers (doctors) in the COVID-19 war. You need to travel the extra mile to see what else can be done for them?" he added.
When Viswanathan said some doctors aren't getting paid, Mehta responded by saying, "It seems you have reviewed ad hoc representation." Siding with the senior advocate, Justice Shah pointed towards reports suggesting doctors' salaries were stopped. In some cases, they went on strike. "This should not require court intervention. You need to do more. This is a matter of concern regarding doctors," Justice Bhushan said.
Telling the Centre that it can't be averse to the concerns of doctors, Justice Bhushan ordered, "Suggestions by petitioners need to be sent to Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, today itself for them to take this up."