The Jammu & Kashmir High Court (Srinagar Wing) on Tuesday (01st September) stressed that the Government Doctors cannot be permitted to "use their employment for private practice and commercial exploitation".
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Puneet Gupta further asked the Chief Secretary of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir to examine this issue.
This observation by the High Court came while hearing a plea, where the applicant had submitted before the Court that several doctors and practitioners working in Government Hospitals have taken undue advantage of the restrictions imposed by the Government as many of the health facilities were closed but doctors were allowed to continue the private practice
The primary grievance in this application was related to the working of the Government Dental College, Srinagar, and Associated Hospitals of Government Medical College, Srinagar.
The Arguments put forth
It was informed to the Court that initially when restrictions on account of the Covid-19 pandemic had to be imposed, the Government had restricted the functioning of public facilities in Government medical establishments. However, over a period of time, there has been a slow opening of these facilities.
The Counsel for the applicant submitted that the application seeks to highlight an unfortunate fall out and aspect of the practice prevalent in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir whereby Government Doctors are permitted to carry on with their private practice.
It was told to the Court that this permission "was used by medical practitioners to build large private practices by diverting patients from Government hospitals to their private clinics."
It was contended by the applicant that while facilities in the Dental Hospital are closed and no procedures are being performed, "several doctors and practitioners employed in the hospital are carrying out all those procedures in their private clinics."
Mr. Shah Aamir, learned AAG, representing the Respondent Department refuted the above contentions and the allegations made in the application and sought time to file the reply.
The Court's Observation
The Court was of the view that if, what has been submitted by the applicant is correct, it suggests the adverse manner in which health services would be made available to patients seeking treatment in Government Hospitals and facilities.
In this context, the Court said,
"The contended disservice to the residents of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and prejudice to the public interest is a serious matter and the permissibility of permitting the private practice to Government Doctors and employees deserves to be seriously re-examined." (emphasis supplied)
The Bench further remarked,
"It cannot be denied that it is patient care and the public interest which has to be placed on the highest pedestal and optimised Government doctors and professionals cannot be permitted to use their employment and public facilities for building private practices and commercial exploitation." (emphasis supplied)
The Court observed that attending to lucrative private practices has to resultantly diminish and detract from the attention which a professional would pay to his salaried public position as a government doctor.
Further, the Court said,
"Judicial notice can be taken of the fact that employment opportunities in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir are by far, extremely few, large numbers of people without financial resources and health facilities either not available or insufficient. Such practices as complained by the applicant need to be urgently brought to a halt." (emphasis supplied)
The Court ordered that a copy of the application and observations made in this order be served upon the Chief Secretary of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir to ensure that the above issue is examined.
Lastly, the competent authorities were directed to examine the practices which are prevailing in other States and Union Territories on this aspect, after taking into account the limitations on medical facilities available in the Union Territory of the Jammu & Kashmir.
The matter has been listed for further hearing on 01st October 2020.
Case Title: Azra Ismail v. Union of India and others
Case No.: CM No. 3122/2020 in WP (C) PIL No. 04/2020
Quorum: Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Puneet Gupta
Appearance: Advocate Shafaqat Nazir (for the Applicant); AAG Shah Aamir (for the Respondents)
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