Supreme Court slammed the government for not providing proper accommodation facilities as well as remuneration to doctors who were at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has directed the Petitioners to convey their suggestions/concerns to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
"We cannot have dissatisfied soldiers in this COVID war. The doctors are not being paid, these things are coming to light, what is this?"
The PILs, filed by Dr. Jerryl Banait, Dr. Arushi Jain and Advocate Amit Sahni, sought for directions to provide suitable accommodation and quarantine facilities for medical workers who were involved in treating of COVID-19 patients.
It further stated that the urgent intervention of the Court was required "in view of the plight of doctors, nursing staff, hospital staff, ASHA workers, ambulance operators etc. and the kind of treatment being meted out to them despite putting the nation first, working tirelessly round the clock and risking their own lives and the lives of their family members".
In a response to the plea, an Affidavit had been filed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, wherein it was submitted that though adequate measures and substantive efforts (for instance, 5-star hotels being used for accommodations for doctors) had been taken by the Government, the final responsibility to protect oneself lay with the doctors themselves.
"While the Hospital Infection Control Committee (HICC) in the health facility is responsible for implementing the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) activities and for organizing regular trainings on IPC for HCWs, the final responsibility lies with the HCW (Health Care Workers) to prevent infection and to protect himself/herself."
Today, while referring to the aforementioned Affidavit, Senior Advocate KV Vishwanathan submitted that the same was not satisfactory and that specific directions/suggestions were required to prevent exposure of frontline HCW to their families.
"A specific direction is required so that the families of doctors are not put in danger."
Vishwanathan further highlighted the discrepancies in the SOP provided in the Affidavit with respect to HCWs. He submitted that the categories of "high risk and low risk" exposure of doctors and nurses were improper, and thereby increased the risk of the HCWs and their families.
The Bench, while responding that they had just received the Affidavit, stated that two aspects had to be considered:
"1. How to solve this problem of high risk exposure (for doctors handling COVID patients).
2. Accommodations for doctors with requisite parameters to curb the issues."
In light of the above, Justice SK Kaul informed SG Tushar Mehta that the country could not have dissatisfied soldiers (referring to the HCWs at the frontline of the COVID-19 battle).
At this juncture, Vishwanathan submitted that the HCWs were being subjected to wage deductions.
"My instructions are that government doctors are subjected to wage deductions and private doctors are not being given proper salaries. The kind of violence they are going through is the additional menace".
The Bench, on this submission, slammed the government for not addressing the concerns of the HCWs properly.
"The doctors are not being paid, these things are coming to light. What is this? I don't think what is happening should be happening. You must do more for them. Their concerns must be addressed."
At the submission of Vishwanathan regarding the acquisition of premises in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, for the setting up of proper accommodation, the Bench directed the Petitioners to hand over their suggestions/concerns to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The matter is now listed on 17th June.