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"By using strikes to resolve issues doctors, like lawyers, forget the moral worth and dignity of patients and leave them in the lurch", the High Court observed.
While allowing pleas to quash “punitive” government orders to transfer 135 Government Doctors out of Tamil Nadu, the Madras High Court on Friday reiterated that “strikes by doctors is, ex-facie, illegal and without any justification.” (Dr.P.Balakrishnan vs. State of Tamil Nadu and ors.)
Justice Anand Venkatesh observed,
The Court went on to explain further that, “The issue may be also examined from an ethical perspective. There can be little doubt that by going on strike doctors violate a fundamental maxim of medical jurisprudence “Primum, non nocere” ie., first, do no harm. The harm that befalls patients on account of strikes is unfathomable."
"By using strikes to resolve issues doctors, like lawyers, forget the moral worth and dignity of patients and leave them in the lurch unmindful of the humanitarian consequences that ensure from their actions. Patients cannot be a means to an end. They cannot be mere playthings whose lives can be put on the line to achieve other ends through the medium of strikes.”
Madras High Court
The Court was dealing with the apparent fallout of a doctors’ strike that commenced in October last year, after the Government failed to repeatedly address concerns put forward by the medical professionals on various issues including revision of pay, time bound promotions, PGs postings and counselling issues.
The Doctors’ eventually resumed duty on November 1, 2019, after the Government decided to withdraw an earlier break-in-service order i.e. an order that could have resulted in the doctors losing employee benefits for their absence from service.
Shortly after the strike was halted, however, the Government issued orders to transfer 135 doctors. This was challenged by a large number of the doctors so transferred, on the ground that the transfers were malafide and targeted against those doctors identified as persons who led the agitation.
On Friday, Justice Venkatesh found merit in their case that the transfers were clearly punitive and tainted by malafides. As reasoned in the judgment,
“… the action taken by the Government by picking and choosing certain Doctors and issuing them with the charge memos and transfer orders, was not done to bring the situation under control, but it was done to warn the Doctors that any one who spear heads such agitations will be dealt with iron hands."
"The charge memos and the transfer orders that have been issued by the respondents, is clearly tainted with malafides. If action had to be necessarily taken for the agitation / strike, then it should have been taken against all the Doctors who participated in the same. However, the respondents have chosen to go only against the office bearers and hasty transfer orders have been passed and charge memos have been issued.”
Madras High Court
Taking critical note over the targeted transfer of doctors, the judge also observed that those who spearheaded the protest alone “should not be assigned the role of a villain and singled out and dealt with in such a harsh manner.”
Rather, the Court proceeded to comment that the Government, as model employer, ought to have been more clear on the course of their policy and responsive to the needs of the aggrieved doctors. The Court said,
"It is always essential that the Government takes a very clear stand on these issues, so that, the Government Doctors know, where they stand. The Government cannot keep the issues unresolved and expect the Doctors to wait endlessly."
“Ultimately, if the Government is not able to meet the demands, it can clearly convey the same to the Doctors. By keeping the issue pending, the Government was only unnecessarily escalating the already charged atmosphere.”
Madras High Court
The Court added that, “If the Government had been proactive, the entire incident could have been avoided. In the considered view of this Court, the inaction on the part of the Government had only led to the Doctors going on a State-wide boycott / agitation / strike.”
Further, it was pointed out that,
"Doctors going on a strike/boycott is a very rare phenomenon which does not happen very often. Unfortunately, the Government pushed the Doctors to take the extreme step and now the Government wants to punish those Doctors and warn them not to make any demands in future. This attitude of the Government requires a change."
Madras High Court
In this backdrop, the Court has emphasised that the Government should focus on finding solutions to the problems faced by the doctors rather than punishing them.
In view of these observations, the Court directed the recall of the transfer orders and allowed the writ petitions filed by the aggrieved doctors. On a concluding note, the Court recorded a “fervent request” that the Government immediately address the demands made but the Government doctors and find a solution to the same.
“The more it is kept pending without any solution, the more it is going to affect the morale of the Government Doctors,” observed Justice Venkatesh. He further highlighted that, neither the Government nor the doctors were winners of losers in this litigation.
[Read the Judgment]