‘The health of the citizens is the wealth of the nation’ and it cannot be allowed to be jeopardized, the Delhi High Court said Monday while slamming an anti-quota stir at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in 2006.
The division bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna said: ‘The doctors, residents, interns, the para-medical staff or any other person connected with AIIMS could not have gone on strike…, therefore, their said action is declared illegal.’
The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Medical Association against the anti-quota strike in 2006.
Concerned over the public interest involved in the issue, the court said: ‘All concerned with the AIIMS must dedicate and devote themselves for its excellence keeping in mind that the health of the citizens is the wealth of the nation and the same cannot be allowed to be jeopardized.’
The petitioner’s counsel Prashant Bhushan earlier sought action against AIIMS management for allegedly supporting the strike and not taking action against agitating doctors.
Bhushan argued that defying the Supreme Court ruling, the doctors had gone on strike repeatedly in July 2006 protesting the government’s decision to reserve 27 percent seats in higher educational institutions for students of other backward classes.
Seeking identification of the doctors who had struck work, the lawyer said the apex court, while dealing with a petition on AIIMS doctors strike in May 2006, had said the strike by doctors was illegal.
The AIIMS counsel submitted that the then AIIMS director had not maintained any record about the striking doctors and many of them have already left the institute.
Rapping the AIIMS, Chief Justice Misra said: ‘The authorities of AIIMS cannot get away by taking a specious plea or a mercurial stand that though there was a strike, yet they are not aware who were actually involved in the strike.’
The court also said that it is the responsibility of AIIMS authorities to see that no one in the institute shows any kind of deviancy by taking recourse to strikes, protest or demonstrations and he who engages himself in such activity would be liable for disciplinary proceedings and also for the contempt of this court.
‘The president (union health minister) of AIIMS shall constitute a high powered committee to conduct an inquiry to find out who were the persons who participated in earlier strikes and thereafter on such identification proceed against them as per law,’ said the court.
AIIMS doctors went on a flash strike on four occasions in June-July 2006 over the issue of increasing political interference in the institution by the then union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss.
The doctors decided to go on strike following the controversial sacking of P. Venugopal, then director of AIIMS.
Venugopal challenged his sacking in the court and the strike ended after the court stayed his sacking July 7, 2006.
Ramadoss later filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the restraint imposed by the high court on the removal of Venugopal.
On July 25, the government offered to withdraw its order sacking Venugopal but decided to raise charges against him in court.
During this controversy some patients at AIIMS reportedly died due to lack of treatment.