The Madhya Pradesh High Court on Friday declared the strike by the Junior Doctors Association (JUDA) in the State as illegal while noting that they have chosen a wholly inappropriate time to press for their demands, howsoever reasonable they may be, by proceeding on strike.
The Bench of Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice Sujoy Paul further remarked:
"Clearly, in this crucial phase of our lives when the whole of the country is grappling with the deadly menace of Covid-19 following its second wave, the striking doctors have completely forgotten the solemn oath taken by them in the above-extracted declaration."
The matter before the Court
One petitioner Shailendra Singh moved the High Court with the prayer that members of the Junior Doctors Association (for short, "JUDA") of Government Medical Colleges in the entire State of Madhya Pradesh should be restrained from continuing with the strike.
Further, the plea sought that direction be given to the State Government to initiate appropriate action against the erring directors under the Essential Services Maintenance Act, National Disaster Management Act and the Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations 2002.
It was also prayed that action be taken against the members of Junior Doctors Association who have by proceeding on strike committed contempt of the orders passed by this Court on January 31, 2014, and July 25, 2018, whereby the Court restrained all the medical officers attached to Government Hospitals and Government Medical Colleges in the State of Madhya Pradesh from proceeding on strike.
The members of JUDA (including students of postgraduate courses) decided to abstain from work from May 31 as they were demanding an increase in their stipend from Rs.55,000 to Rs.59,000.
It was argued that 17 States in the Country have already increased the stipend during the covid period as high as Rs.85,000/- and that the Junior Doctors Association is having all the documents to substantiate this. Therefore, the government ought to consider the demand of the resident doctors in the right earnest
Junior doctors argued that they should be provided adequate security at the workplace as in certain incidents they were subjected to not only misbehaviour but also beaten by the attendants and family members of the patients in various government hospitals.
Therefore, their demand was that if they and their family members are infected with coronavirus, they should be provided free of cost treatment in the same hospital where they are working.
Despite persuasion by the Court and efforts made by Advocates Rishi Shrivastava and Shri Sidharth R. Gupta, the striking doctors were not prepared to call off the strike. The office-bearers of JUDA were insisting that they would enter into dialogue with the Government only when their demands are met.
Importantly, the Court's remarked that all doctors have a solemn duty towards humanity and the duty binds them to serve the citizens suffering from any kind of disease.
Significantly, the Court added,
"We quite appreciate that they have suffered hardship and rendered duties at odd hours at the cost of their health. But at the same time it is also equally true that they have chosen a wholly inappropriate time to press for their demands, howsoever reasonable they may be, by proceeding on strike."
Further, noting that the Doctors were not inclined to enter into negotiation and were adamant on their demands, the Court said:
"We cannot appreciate this stubborn attitude and condemn their action in proceeding on strike at such a critical juncture when almost entire nation is struggling to survive the second wave of Corona virus, which has engulfed several hundred human lives in different parts of the country."
Thus, the Court declared the strike by junior doctors as illegal and direct them to immediately resume their duties.
"If they do so, a high powered committee consisting of the Chief Secretary of the State, Additional Chief Secretary, Medical and Health and the Commissioner, Medical Education shall immediately call them for negotiation," added the Court.
The Court also directed that if they fail to do so within 24 hours, it would be open for the government to take any legal action against them as it may deem fit in accordance with the law.
Case title - Shailendra Singh Vs. State of M. P. & others