“In war, you do not make soldiers unhappy. Travel extra mile and channel some extra money to address their grievances,” the Supreme Court said on Friday taking serious note of non-payment of salary and lack of proper accommodation to doctors engaged in fight against COVID-19.
The courts should not be involved in the issue of non-payment of salary to health care workers and government should settle the issue, it said.
The top court was hearing a plea by a doctor, who alleged that front line healthcare workers engaged in fight against COVID-19 are not being paid salaries or their salaries are being cut or delayed.
The doctor also questioned the Centre’s new SOP making their 14-day quarantine non-mandatory.
“In war, you do not make soldiers unhappy. Travel extra mile and channel some extra money to address grievances. Country cannot afford to have dissatisfied soldiers in this war which is being fought against Corona,” said a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and MR Shah.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said that if there are better suggestions coming forward, they can be accommodated.
The bench said that there are reports coming that many areas doctors are not being paid. “We saw report that doctors went on strike. In Delhi, some doctors have not been paid for past three months. These are concerns that should have been taken care off. It should not require court intervention.”
The bench further said, “You (Centre) need to do more. Must make sure their concerns are addressed”. The bench posted the matter for further hearing next week. On June 4, the Centre had told the top court that a “large number” of make-shift hospitals will have to be built in the near future to accommodate the constant rise in the number of newly infected people.
The Centre also contended that though hospitals are responsible for implementing the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) activities, the final responsibility lies with the health care workers to protect themselves from COVID-19.
It further said mandatory quarantine for 14 days after the duty of healthcare workers of 7/14 days is “not justified and warranted”.
“It is most respectfully submitted that 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,” the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said in an affidavit.
The affidavit was filed on a plea by Arushi Jain who questioned the Centre’s new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of May 15 for front line COVID-19 healthcare workers by which it ended the 14-day mandatory quarantine for them.
The ministry in its reply affidavit had said healthcare workers (HCW) are properly protected by Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) in workplace settings and carry no additional risk to their families or children.
It had said grievances raised by the petitioner alleging infirmities in the May 15 guidelines of the health ministry are completely presumptuous, vacuous, ill-founded and sans any empirical or medical evidence.
Justifying its advisory and SOPs, the health ministry said it is a step in the right direction and that the guidelines emphasise the role of taking adequate preventive measures by all health care workers in the hospital setting against the likelihood of contracting infection at their work place.
On April 8, the apex court had observed that the doctors and medical staff are the “first line of defence of the country” in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic, and directed the Centre to ensure that appropriate PPEs are made available to them for treating coronavirus patients.