The Bombay High Court on Wednesday asked the Maharashtra government to ensure that specialist doctors, including paediatricians and gynaecologists, “actually” join service as per their deputation in tribal regions affected by malnutrition deaths and “work at least a few days a week, if not daily”.
The court directed the state to take deterrent action against doctors who refuse to take up posting in tribal areas, and ensure that they are available to the people affected.
The public interest litigation (PIL) petitioner, Bandu Sampatrao Sane, informed the court that nearly 10,000 deaths due to malnutrition were reported in the tribal regions of Maharashtra in 2022 alone, and specialist doctors — despite several court orders — have not been willing to work there. A division bench of Acting Chief Justice SV Gangapurwala and Justice SG Chapalgaonkar was hearing several pleas, including those filed by activists Dr Rajendra Burma and Sane. No specialist doctors including gynaecologists, paediatricians and radiologists were willing to take up postings in tribal areas, Sane informed the court.
Additional state government pleader Neha Bhide submitted that though the Maharashtra government had made it mandatory for doctors to take up postings in rural or tribal regions, many refused to go to tribal areas and did not even report to work, despite signing a bond or being deputed. She said that a bond amount even adds up to Rs 1 crore, and the government has been trying to fill up the vacant posts and take action against such doctors.
The bench said that while the state government has been working on appointing specialist doctors and the Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) was filling up those posts, the issue, however, was that many “deputed doctors do not report to work”. “What are the steps taken for public health centres? Is there an action plan, and have doctors been deputed there? The government policies are benevolent. Issue is regarding the implementation. Action must be taken to ensure doctors are available at least for a few days, if not 24X7 a day. What deterrent action you (state government) are taking to get the deputed doctors to join? See to it that the deputed doctors join work, and there is a methodology. The recovery of bond amount will not replace the vacancies. Gynaecologists and paediatricians should be there on duty,” said Justice Gangapurwala.
Bhide then said that the state government was not treating the plea as adversarial to it, and it will continue to take necessary steps to make medical personnel available in the tribal regions.
The bench has kept the next hearing on January 19, 2023.