The COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly turned the world into a battlefield with the army of doctors working day and night to combat this disease and save lives. Still, it’s not without its contradictions for the part of feigning ignorance is well versed in some people leading to attacks on doctors and denial of their basic necessity such as salary and their ostracisation from society.
The Supreme Court bench consists of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy, and M.R. Shah on 26th August disposed of the petition filed by Dr. Arushi Jain, seeking separate residential facilities, closer to hospitals, for doctors treating patients affected by the novel Coronavirus and better health facilities for frontline workers and granted liberty to the petitioners to approach the Delhi High Court for further relief.
Senior Advocate K.V. Vishwanathan submitted before the bench that the quarantine period of doctors and health workers which is to be treated as "on-duty" in terms of the last order must not be taken into account prospectively. He also brought up the issue of non-payment of salaries. The Court expressed their shock upon hearing that the deduction in salary of the doctors and healthcare workers were being made based on treating their 14 day quarantine period into a holiday.
The Court explained that suo motu proceedings have already been taken up on this issue by the Delhi High Court and on this, amounts have been released. The bench further refused to pass a generic order on quashing of cases against ASHA workers and healthcare professionals over their protests, reportedly demanding salaries. The bench observed that such general directions could not be passed since every case may have different facts. The Court was further informed that five States — Tripura, Maharashtra, Punjab, Delhi, and Karnataka — have not paid full salaries to doctors and health workers. The Court asked the centre to ensure, even by using its sweeping powers under the Disaster Management Act, that doctors and health workers get their full salaries within a week.
On 17th June The Court, acting on a petition filed by Dr Arushi Jain, had also ordered States to provide appropriate accommodation and implement quarantine guidelines uniformly among medical staffers and doctors, regardless of the nature of their exposure to COVID-19 patients. The Court had taken exception to how quarantine was done away with for medical workers except those in the high-risk category.
It had said no distinction could be made between health care workers in high-risk areas and others as far as quarantine was concerned. Senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan, for petitioner Dr Arushi Jain, said in most cases medical staffers had their aged parents staying with them. The Court had objected to the lack of infrastructure and salary cuts saddled on medical staffers. It had earlier warned the government that "you do not want dissatisfied soldiers in the war" against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Jain has questioned the centre's new Standard Operating Procedure of 15th May for frontline COVID-19 Health Care Workers (HCWs) by which it has ended the 14-day mandatory quarantine for them. Five States — Tripura, Maharashtra, Punjab, Delhi, and Karnataka — have not paid full salaries to doctors and health workers. The Court asked the centre to ensure, even by using its sweeping powers under the Disaster Management Act, that doctors and health workers get their full salaries within a week.
This is not the first time sudden discrimination has been witnessed against the people of the healthcare sector, earlier a case filed by the Fraternity of Doctors of Bengal seeking justice against the brutal attacks on them has come as an eye-opener to the plight faced by this community who have only sought to help out people even though it meant endangering their lives and the lives of their family members. The petition has also sought directions to Union ministries of home affairs and health and West Bengal to depute government-appointed security personnel at all state-run hospitals across the country to ensure the safety and security of doctors. Due to the protests, the healthcare services in the country have been badly disrupted, and many people are dying because of the absence of doctors.
It is necessary on the part of the Court to direct the centre in assuring the full payment of the salaries of this community and also introduce provisions criminalizing attacks with rigorous punishment to ones who are guilty of these offences.
Legal Notice for recovery of money is a formal intimation between parties, warning the other before any legal action is initiated to get the due payment.
The Supreme Court's decision will be historic in marking the achievement for the waves of the struggle of true feminism that inspires many to strive and work hard to reach the pinnacle of equality.