CHENNAI: The Madras High Court on Friday ruled strike by doctors was illegal but quashed charge memos and transfer orders issued to over 100 Tamil Nadu government doctors who spearheaded a stir in October last year, holding the action against them was clearly tainted with malafides.
Referring to various judgements of the Supreme Court, Justice Anand Venkatesh said a conspectus of them would exposit the unanimity in judicial opinion that strikes by doctors is, ex-facie, illegal and without any justification.
"In the absence of a legal or even a moral or equitable right to go on a strike, the logical corollary is that any form of strike is necessarily illegal and without any legal or moral justification. The harm that befalls patients on account of strikes (by doctors) is unfathomable," he said.
He passed a detailed order on a batch of petitions by 118 doctors, who are office-bearers of government doctors associations, challenging the charge memos and the transfer and posting orders issued after the state-wide strike.
The agitation was launched after failure of their repeated efforts to settle amicably their demands, including pay revision, 50 per cent service quota in post-graduate and super specialties courses and time bound promotions.
Justice Venkatesh, who went into several issues, including whether the doctors have the right to go on strike and if the impasse could have been avoided through effective steps by the government, stressed they cannot resort to such agitations at the cost of patients.
By using strikes to resolve issues doctors, like lawyers, forget the moral worth and dignity of patients and leave them in the lurch unmindful of the humanitarian consequences that ensue from their actions.
"Patients cannot be a means to an end. They cannot be mere playthings whose lives can be put on the line to achieve other ends through the medium of strikes," he said.
He noted that over 18,000 doctors went on strike and the action of the government in picking and choosing sections among them was to warn that anyone who leads such agitations will be dealt with iron hands.
The doctors had called off their six-day long strike, pressing various long-pending demands, and resumed duties on November 1, 2019 in response to appeals by the state Chief Minister and the Health Minister, the Judge said.
As a model employer, the government ought to have followed up and come out with solutions for the doctors.
Instead of resorting to such a positive step, it decided to show its might against the office-bearers, who are in the ranks of Assistant Professors and Senior Resident Doctors, the Judge said.
Tracing the genesis of the issue, he said even the high court had taken into consideration the seriousness and directed the government to come up with a final decision by February 16, 2019.
This did not happen and there was no progress.
Subsequently a representation was given by the doctors' apex body drawing the government's attention and it was indicated they will go on a one-day two-hour boycott without affecting the emergency service.
Thereafter, the Health Minister convened a meeting on August 27, and some assurances were given.
But, there was no movement forward, they resorted to the strike from October 25.
The Judge said the government ought to have given top priority for certain demands made by the doctors and some final solution must have been reached.
Quashing the charge memos and transfer orders, he said the doctors who spearheaded the agitation were not instigating or conspiring or inciting an unlawful act.
"They are merely the representatives of the entire body of the government doctors. They should not be assigned the role of a villain and singled out and dealt with in such a harsh manner," he said in the order.
The action was clearly tainted with malafides and if any measure had to be necessarily taken for the strike, it should have been taken against all doctors who participated in it.
Advising the government that it should not act like a king but to show motherly affection on the doctors who work for the welfare of the patients, the Judge directed it to address their demands at the earliest.