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Supreme Court asks Centre for answers on violence against doctors

Doctors protesting in Goa. Image credit: Teena Kurian [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]
Violence against doctors in endemic in India. The Supreme Court is now seeking a government response the issue following an appeal by doctors. 

The suit was brought by the Tamil Nadu branch of the Association of Healthcare Providers (APHI), which sought from the Centre “immediate and necessary action against the perpetrators indulging in violence against medical professionals, medicare service and causing damage to the Clinical Establishments.” Doctors have called for a separate law addressing violence towards the medical fraternity and damage being perpetrated against medical establishments. Such incidents are commonplace in India. 

“The petitioners submit that innumerable incidents of violence against doctors are reported nearly on a daily basis across India, some resulting in grievous injuries,” the petition read. “Even institutions such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, the premier medical institute of the country is not spared.” Without steps being taken to address the situation, disillusionment and fear among doctors will result in “serious repercussions on patient care” according to the petition.

Their claims are far from baseless. According to the Indian Medical Association (IMA), 75 percent of doctors in India have faced abuse and violence in the workplace. This has led to a backlash from the country’s medical fraternity, with a number of doctors’ strikes occurring this year following episodes of violence. 

A recent example saw a retired doctor on a tea estate in Assam beaten to death by workers when one of their colleagues died whilst receiving medical attention. The death of the 73-year-old medic sparked a statewide strike by physicians and an appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the IMA for the government to immediately bring an ordinance prescribing penalties for those who assault doctors. 

A law is in the works to achieve this. A draft of the Healthcare Service Personnel and Clinical Establishments (Prohibition of Violence and Damage to Property) Bill, 2019 has recently been released into the public domain for comments by the Union Health Ministry, which would penalise those who assault doctors and vandalise healthcare facilities with a jail sentence of up to ten years and a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh. However, the draft legislation was released into the public domain for a thirty-day period and doctors are anxious for the government to institute an ordinance until a law concerning the issue is enacted. 

After hearing the petition, a two-justice bench comprising N. V. Ramana and Ajay Rastogi issued a notice for the Centre to respond. 

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