Supreme Court: A 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and M R Shah, JJ directed Centre to issue directions to states for payment of salaries and providing necessary quarantine facilities to doctors and healthcare workers engaged in treating COVID-19 patients. The Court directed that the said direction be issued by tomorrow i.e. 18.06.2020.
While hearing a plea filed by a private doctor raising questions on the Centre’s May 15 decision that 14-day quarantine was not mandatory for doctors, the Court asked the Centre to file a compliance report within four weeks on payment of salaries and quarantine facilities to doctors and healthcare workers and warned that non-compliance would be viewed seriously.
Doctor Arushi Jain, in her petition, had alleged that front line healthcare workers engaged in the fight against COVID-19 are not being paid salaries or their wages are being cut or delayed.
Senior Advocate K.V. Viswanathan, appearing for the petitioner submitted:
- doctors and health workers are not receiving their salaries regularly, hence, a direction is necessary to the State Governments, Central Government and all other concerned authorities to ensure that salaries and emoluments of the doctors and health workers are timely paid, who are front-line warriors.
- with regard to quarantine, there are no details of appropriate accommodations.
- doctors or health workers, who are directly looking to the patients in COVID ward are not given the facility of quarantine as per guidelines dated 15.05.2020 unless they are covered by high risk exposure.
“a doctor, even with PP Kit, who deals with the COVID patients and devotes time with the COVID patients, has to be given quarantine to protect himself and his family.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre submitted:
- so far as the payment of salary to the health workers and doctors are concerned, appropriate orders shall be issued by the Central Government in exercise of power under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 which may be communicated to all the State Governments and Union Territories for compliance. The said order shall be issued by tomorrow itself.
- with regard to doctors and health workers, who are directly looking after the COVID patients and are in touch with the COVID patients, are not denied the quarantine. Looking to the requirement of doctors and health workers to manage the hospital, quarantine period should be initially for one week only and thereafter taking the profile of the health worker a decision to be taken for further period of one week
The bench directed that necessary directions be issued by union health secretary and chief secretaries of the State by tomorrow.
On June 12, the top court had observed,
“In war, you do not make soldiers unhappy. Travel extra mile and channel some extra money to address their grievances.”
It had said that the courts should not be involved in the issue of non-payment of salary to health care workers and government should settle the issue.
Senior advocate K V Viswanathan, appearing for the petitioner, had said that if doctors on COVID duty are not provided accommodation near hospitals their family/friends are exposed to higher risk of infection. He had said that doctors and other healthcare workers, who are engaged in COVID duty, run a great risk of exposure of infection without proper PPE kits and without proper accommodation, their family members are also at higher risk of infection.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in it’s affidavit said,
“number of cases of COVID-19 are constantly increasing and at some point of time in near future, apart from existing hospitals, large number of temporary make-shift hospitals will have to be created in order to accommodate COVID-19 patients requiring admission, medical care and treatment.”
On April 8, the Court had observed that doctors and medical staff are the “first line of defence of the country” in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, and directed the Centre to ensure that appropriate PPEs are made available to them for treating coronavirus patients.
[Dr. Arushi Jain v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 515 , order dated 17.06.2020]
(With inputs from PTI)