The Supreme Court directs Central Government to pass directions regarding quarantine and salaries of health workers
The Supreme Court today directed the Central government to pass directions regarding quarantine of doctors who come in contact with COVID-19 patients and salaries of healthcare workers by tomorrow (Dr. Aarushi Jain vs Union of India).
A three-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and MR Shah passed the order while hearing a plea demanding separate residential facilities for frontline health care workers in the fight against COVID-19. The petition filed by Udaipur-based doctor Aarushi Jain was filed by Advocates Mithu Jain and Arjun Syal.
While hearing the plea on June 12, the three-judge Bench had observed that the welfare of doctors and frontline healthcare workers was a matter of concern and that the government needs to do more on the issue and cannot “work half-heartedly”. The petitioner was given time to submit suggestions to the Secretary, Ministry of Health, and Family Welfare. Appearing for the petitioners, Senior Advocate KV Viswanathan urged the Court to direct states to file affidavits regarding the provision of accommodation and salary payment to healthcare professionals. In response to the plea an affidavit had been filed by the Ministry of health and family welfare, though adequate measures and efforts have been taken by the government it is ultimately a doctor’s own responsibility to protect himself from COVID-19. At this point, Solicitor General for India Tushar Mehta suggested that as far as the salary was concerned, the Centre can issue a direction saying payment of salary has to be made, failing which it will be a criminal offense. He added,
“Regarding accommodation, even 5-star accommodation has been provided to the doctors. Some lapse might have been there. We will address it.”
The bench after receiving the affidavit stated that there are two aspects that are needed to be considered:-
- How to solve this problem of High-risk exposure?
- Accommodations for doctors with requisite parameters to curb the issues?
While hearing the plea on 17th June, The Court ruled that quarantine facilities for Doctors and health workers shall be ensured even if they are not falling under the category of “High-risk exposure”. This was dealt with because the center’s notification only involved the quarantine facilities for the Doctors who are exposed to high risk. Justice Bhushan observed,
“Suppose a doctor with a PPE comes in contact with COVID patient, they can’t he says to be the high-risk case?”
Tushar Mehta, the Solicitor General, then assured the Court that doctors and medical professionals coming in contact with COVID-19 patients will be put under quarantine for a period of one week. After one week, the healthcare worker would be checked to determine whether or not further quarantine is required.
Also, the counsel representing the petitioner urged the accountability of state government in the matter of payment of salaries to the doctors and health workers. The Court refused to direct states to file affidavits on places of quarantine and directed the Centre to issue directions on the issues of quarantine of and salary of healthcare workers. Tushar Mehta said that the non-payment of salaries will attract penal consequences under the National Disaster Management Act in terms of notification of the center. SG Mehta had earlier pointed out that this was not adversarial litigation and said that guidelines have been formulated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), along with other experts.
The top court also slammed the government for adopting the lackadaisical approach in providing accommodation facilities to the frontline doctors and workers treating Covid-19 patients. Tushar Mehta said that in case more suggestions on the aspect of separate accommodation for healthcare workers are to be made, the same may be placed before the expert body. The Bench had observed that on this question of accommodation for frontline workers and doctors, the Solicitor General needs to check what more can be done.