HC says doctors can’t strike, but quashes transfer orders

The Madras High Court has made it clear that doctors have no right whatsoever to go on strike. Yet, it quashed charge memos and transfer orders issued to select government doctors who had spearheaded a strike last year and held that the government’s action smacked of mala fide intention of exhibiting its might over the employees.

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.

Allowing a batch of writ petitions challenging the charge memos, transfer orders issued on the above doctors who were said to be in the forefront of the agitation – after they had called off their strike and returned to duty on November 1, 2019, on the assurance of the state chief minister and Tamil Nadu health minister that their long-pending demands including pay revision would be redressed as soon as possible, Justice N Anand Venkatesh of the High Court also closed the connected miscellaneous petitions.

Justice Anand Venkatesh said in his 72-page order, “this court has absolutely no hesitation in coming to a conclusion that the transfer orders and the charge memos issued to the petitioners are clearly tainted with malafide, and it has been issued only to punish the petitioners who were spearheading the agitation.”

By using strike 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 of their actions, Justice N Anand Venkatesh said.

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.

“By keeping the issue pending, the government was only unnecessarily escalating the already charged atmosphere… The government doctors started getting a feeling of betrayal. This ultimately resulted in a State wide agitation. If the government had been proactive, the entire incident could have been avoided,” the judge said.

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.