Compulsory Rural Service For Medical Post Graduates Not Bonded Labour: Karnataka HC [Read Order]
The Karnataka High Court has directed the State government to conduct an inquiry for penalising or prosecuting culpable officials and persons responsible for not securing the undertaking/obligation bond for government service from candidates who had secured postgraduate degree and diploma seats for medical and dental courses under the government quota.
Justice Krishna S. Dixit noted that during the period between 2008-09 and 2017-18, there have been 5,348 candidates who have availed government medical seats for P.G. Degree/Diploma. Of them, only 4,965 candidates have furnished the requisite undertaking on stamped paper.
It then noted that some State officials have allegedly absolved several candidates from the obligation to serve after receiving a paltry sum of Rs.1 lakh as against the legally prescribed penalty of Rs. 5 lakh and Rs. 3 lakh, and post 2013 amendment, Rs. 50 lakh and Rs. 25 lakh.
The court further pointed out that since then, a small sum of Rs.11.89 crore has been claimed to have been recovered as penalty, when prima facie it ought to have been a several hundred crore rupees.
"Matter is more than what meets the eye. This is a very serious matter warranting attention of the State Government/the Comptroller & Auditor General of India/the Accountant General for the State. More is not necessary to specify and less is insufficient to leave it unsaid," it then observed.
Contentions put forth by the parties
The court was hearing a petition filed by over 300 practicing physicians, who had completed their postgraduate degree or diploma courses in 2018 after joining the courses in 2015–16 under government quota seats after signing obligation bonds.
They had now challenged a September 28, 2018 notification issued by the Department of Medical Education asking them to attend counselling for deploying them for government service, in the posts of senior resident/tutor/specialist, as per their obligation bonds.
They had essentially claimed that the government had not called those doctors who had completed courses in earlier years despite signing bonds; and had claimed that the bonds were obtained through "coercion" at the time of admission. They had gone to the extent of terming government's rules as "bonded labour" and consequently, violative of Articles 21 and 23 of the Constitution of India.
The State, on the other hand, had relied on Rule 15 of the Karnataka Conduct of Entrance Test for selection and admission to Post Graduate Medical and Dental degree and diploma courses Rules, 2006, which mandates signing of a bond by such students to undertake to serve for three years in government service on completion of the course.
It had submitted that the petitioners were neither minors nor under any legal disability at the time of signing of the bonds, and that hence, they are estopped from going back on their word now.
As for not having enforced the bond for students in the earlier batches, the State had submitted that these candidates have now scattered away and it would not be advisable to defer the counselling till they are identified. It further pointed out that the undertaking does not lapse with time and hence, the petitioners cannot allege discrimination on this ground.
Neither coercion nor bonded labour
The court pointed out that several other states have formulated similar policies, the validity of which has been upheld by several high courts. It opined that the petitioners have not given any reason to the court to not tread on the same path.
It then rejected the contention that the petitioners were coerced into signing the undertaking, observing, "Rule 15 of 2006 Rules requires an undertaking being furnished by the candidates concerned and accordingly, the petitioners barring a few, have furnished one, that too on a stamped Bond, keeping their eyes wide open and without raising a little finger all these years. The petitioners did not lack capacity or autonomy. Nobody compelled them to seek allotment of Government Seats.
Their contention that the undertaking was extracted abruptly at the time of admission process is false, to say the least inasmuch as the 2006 Rules are in force since December 2006 and the admission brochures have been published well in advance"
It further noted that the petitioners kept quiet even after completing the course, and that had they not availed government seats, these would have gone to other deserving candidates who would have adhered to the undertaking.
As for the argument pertaining to the undertaking amounting to bonded or forced labour, the court asserted that the contention was "misconceived" and that the concept of bonded labour has connotations different from the facts of the case in hand. It justified its opinion by pointing out that the petitioners weren't forced into it, and that they were being offered a monthly stipend of Rs. 45,000 which is more than the minimum wage for the professionals.
The impugned notification was, therefore, upheld and the following directions were issued:
- the candidates shall not be compelled to undergo counselling under the impugned Counselling Notification dated 28.09.2018 till after a Comparative Merit List of all the candidates in question, barring those who are already serving the Government, is prepared and operated;
- the candidates who before long are slated to go for higher or specialty courses recognized by the RGUHS/Medical Council of India, shall be deferred from counselling on proving their credential by some cogent material, till after the course is complete, regardless of its result, subject to the rider that they Undertake to come back for service after the course period; this concession is available only once;
- the respondents 1 and 2 shall make all endeavours to invoke the Bond Obligation furnished by all the candidates who have availed the Government seats under the aforesaid 2006 Rules, ab inceptio either by calling them for service, and in default for paying the penalty prescribed by Rule 15;
- the Respondent-Government shall within a period of six months formulate a Comprehensive Scheme by laying down the guidelines for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of Rule 15 of 2006 Rules and for invoking the Undertaking given by the candidates in all the yester years and in future;
- the Respondent-Government shall forthwith constitute an inquiry/investigation for penalizing/prosecuting the culpable officials/persons responsible for not securing the Undertaking/Stamped Bond from the candidates who had availed the Government seats under 2006 Rules, and also those who are responsible for absolving the obligee candidates from the Undertaking/Bond by accepting amounts of penalty in sums less than what is prescribed under Rule 15; and
- the Respondent-Government shall consider the grievance of the petitioners/candidates for enhancement of monthly stipend/payment keeping in view all relevant factors including the Pay Scale admissible to the posts in respect of which they are to undergo counselling.
Read the Order Here