Saturday, February 4, 2023

Gauhati High Court directs Assam government to ensure safety of healthcare persons

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The Gauhati High Court has passed certain directions to prevent violence against medicare persons and damage to property of medicare service institutions in the state of Assam.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice R.M. Chhaya and Justice Soumitra Saikia disposed of a suo motu PIL and another PIL pertaining to assault on the members of medical profession and other healthcare workers during the tiring times of Covid-19.

Both the petitions raised a common issue relating to an incident, which took place at Udali Model Hospital, Hojai on June 1, 2021, wherein medical workers including a doctor named Seuj Kr. Senapati was assaulted by the near relatives and attendants of a Covid-19 patient, who succumbed to the same. A letter was addressed by Sneha Kalita, Advocate on Record, Supreme Court of India drawing the attention of the Court based upon two press releases dated June 1, 2021 by the Junior Doctors Association of the Gauhati Medical College & Hospital and the Assam Medical College & Hospital. The same was treated as a suo motu PIL, whereas one public spirited citizen named Asif Iqbal, a resident of Tinsukia has filed PIL No. 33/ 2021 for an appropriate direction to the respondent authority to take cognisance and impose fine upon the persons who violate Covid-19 protocol and Government guidelines, with a further direction to ensure that the hospital authorities intimate the family members of the patients about the health status of the patient via SMS, on-line or any alternative mode and also to place a cap on the bills during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The petitioner has also prayed for a relief directing the respondent authority to utilize the money collected as fine from the persons who violate the Covid-19 protocol by distributing mask and sanitizer to the needy poor people, beggars etc.

Sneha Kalita, contended that the incident which took place on 01.06.2021 at Udali Model Hospital, Hojai should be properly handled by the State authorities and the High Court should issue appropriate directions directing the State authorities to implement the provisions of the Assam Medicare Service Persons And Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2011.

It was contended by Kalita that appropriate victim compensation should be given to those affected by such uncalled for violence on medicare service persons including doctors. According to Kalita, the steps taken by the State Government are either half-hearted or insufficient and, hence, appropriate direction deserves to be issued by this Court. Sneha Kalita has drawn the attention of the High Court to the written submissions submitted by Vijay Hansaria, Senior Advocate, who appeared before the Court in the matter as well as Kalita herself and contended that appropriate directions should be given to the State authorities.

S. Islam, counsel for the petitioner in PIL No. 33/2021, adopting the arguments of Ms. Sneha Kalita, contended that appropriate directions be issued.

As against this, D. Saikia, Advocate General, Assam at the outset submitted that steps have been taken by the State Government to see that incidents like the incident of 1st June, 2021 may not occur. Saikia, relying upon the affidavit dated 19.07.2021 filed in PIL (Suo Motu) , contended that chargesheet has been filed against all the accused persons for the alleged offence under Sections 120(B) /143/147/149/324/333/325/353/307/427/447/117/34 of the Indian Penal Code read with Section 3(2) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1884, Section 4 of the Assam Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2011 and Sections 3(2)(i) & (ii) and Section 3(3) of the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020.

Saikia contended that out of the 32 accused persons, 10 are on bail and the trial has commenced. Saikia further contended that the State of Assam has implemented the order dated 14.06.2021 passed by this Court and appropriate orders have been issued to ensure proper awareness about the legal provisions and penalties against the acts of atrocities against medicare service persons. The learned Advocate General further contended that appropriate directions have been issued to mandatorily display a notice as provided under Section 3 of the Assam Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2011 in local language in a prominent place in every hospital. Relying upon the order dated 14.07.2021 and the W.T. Message dated 15.07.2021, Saikia further contended that all the Superintendents of Police have been instructed by the Home & Political Department of the State of Assam to ensure that no weapon/firearm is allowed to be taken inside a hospital.

Relying upon the affidavit dated 25.08.2021, the Advocate General further contended that all Medical Colleges & Hospitals are already having CCTV cameras and such cameras are connected with Principal, Superintendent and Security-in-Charge of the Hospitals. It is also contended by the Advocate General that in Lakhimpur Medical College, CCTV cameras shall be made operational. It was further contended that the district hospitals except the newly created districts have the facility of CCTV camera. Similarly, the State Government shall install CCTV cameras in all model hospitals, CHC, FRU and PHC across the State in a phased manner.

The Advocate General also relied upon the affidavit dated 05.10.2021 filed in PIL (Suo Motu) No. 4/2021 and contended that at the time of hike of cases in the year 2021 the State Government took effective steps for providing treatment to all concerned. Drawing the attention of this Court to the affidavit dated 07.12.2021, the Advocate General contended that the doctors and the health workers shall be properly protected in any case of violence as complained in the petition. Saikia further contended that the State is ready and willing to carry out any further direction that may be deemed fit by the High Court.

Having considered the submissions made by the respective counsels for the parties, more particularly, considering the written submissions made by the learned counsels, the High Court is of the view that the following directions need to be issued to the State Government:

i) The State Government shall file an appropriate application before the competent jurisdictional Court to expedite the trial of Lanka Police Station case, which was registered in connection with the incident that took place at Udali Model Hospital, Hojai on June 1, 2021, wherein Dr. Seuj Kr. Senapati was assaulted.

ii) The State Government is further directed to install CCTV cameras which will work for 24 hours in all the hospitals, nursing homes, medical centres and medicare service institutions run by the State Government in the State of Assam, as early as possible and the same should be properly supervised and monitored.

iii) The State Government through the Health Department shall display a board in every hospital and health care institution to the effect that any act of violence against healthcare service personnel is a punishable offence liable for imprisonment and fine with particulars of the concerned police station and the contact number of the concerned police station and the officer-in-charge of the said police station.

iv) The State Government shall also issue appropriate direction informing the general public that no weapon/firearm shall be allowed inside the healthcare institutions.

v) The State Government is further directed to install a separate toll free number for lodging complaint regarding any act of violence against healthcare service personnel or breach of the provisions of the Assam Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2011.

“As far as the contention regarding victim compensation is concerned, the same is not dealt with in these petitions. However, it would be open for the victim of the alleged incidence of violence that took place on 01.06.2021, to apply before the competent authority for victim compensation in accordance with law”, the order read.

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