The Supreme Court could not take up a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to declare that the proposed doctors’ strike June 25 was illegal as Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai recused herself from hearing the matter. A vacation bench of Justice H.L. Gokhale and Justice Desai directed the petitioner, NGO People for Better Treatment, to approach the court’s registry for the listing of the matter before another bench which did not have Justice Desai on it.
Justice Desai declined to hear the matter as her husband is a member of Indian Medical Association (IMA), which had given the call for the strike. The strike has been called to protest the Clinical Establishment Act and introduction of Bachelor of Rural Health Care course. Terming the proposed strike “unethical, immoral and against the law”, the NGO said it was in violation of “Code of Ethics and Regulations” of the Medical Council of India (MCI).
The petition said that the apex court, in an earlier judgment, while acknowledging the right to strike as basic right in a democratic society, had held that people engaged in essential public services could not take recourse to such methods of agitations that put entire society to ransom. It said that the proposed doctors’ strike would deprive the patients, largely poor and from impoverished backgrounds, of their “fundamental right to life which is protected under Article 21 of Indian Constitution”.
The PIL said that the court needed to issue an injunction to doctors, restraining them from bringing the medical services to a standstill as it amounted to renouncing their Hippocratic Oath. The petition said that besides the violation of the oath, the proposed strike was also in violation of the MCI provision that states the doctors’ obligation to the sick and against any neglect.
Noting the “astonishing silence” of the union health ministry on the issue, the NGO sought the court’s direction to it take “immediate steps to ban “doctors strike” in hospitals across India”.