Chandigarh: A Division Bench of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana on Thursday issued notice to the police administration of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh after a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed to demand sensitisation of police about the existing laws to protect doctors from unwarranted criminal prosecution and handle medical negligence cases and incidents of crime against medical professionals.

The PIL was filed by Chandigarh-based Medicos Legal Action Group (MLAG).

While issuing the notice, the bench of Acting Chief Justice Ashutosh Mohunta and Justice Harinder Singh Sidhu observed that the petitioner is fighting for the cause of doctors and fixed December 4 as the next date of hearing in the matter.

To protect doctors from unwarranted criminal prosecution, the Supreme Court in the case of Martin F D’Souza versus Mohd Ishfaq in February 2009 held that the police cannot arrest doctors over complaints of medical negligence without prima facie evidence. The apex court also restrained courts from issuing notices to doctors for alleged medical negligence without seeking an opinion from experts.

But the data collected under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by the MLAG revealed that the police of both the states of Punjab and Haryana have been overlooking the guidelines and have been making arrests without consulting medical experts, claimed Dr Neeraj Nagpal, convenor, MLAG and former president of IMA Chandigarh.

Dr Nagpal told India Medical Times, “Some time back we filed RTIs with top administrators of Punjab and Haryana police to know how many doctors have been arrested in the last few years and if a proper procedure was followed to arrest them.”

“A reply from Haryana police revealed that out of 40 arrests (of doctors) it made, only in four cases opinion from medical experts were taken. So, even after the SC guidelines, it is very easy to arrest doctors and police do not follow the proper procedure,” said Dr Nagpal.

He further said, “I have also urged the Indian Medical Association (IMA) chapters of both Haryana and Punjab to file PIL to reinforce the demand of proper sensitization of police as we have seen that in Dr Manish Garg’s case, a serious action by police could have saved his life.”

Dr Manish Garg, who worked as a private medical practitioner at Geetaram Memorial Hospital in Jind (Haryana), was on September 7 killed by some motorcycle-borne assailants apparently over demand of an identity proof before conducting ultrasound scan on a pregnant woman as per the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994. This led to a tussle between the pregnant woman’s family and Dr Garg.

According to reports, the hired assailants already had made two unsuccessful attempts to murder Dr Garg in the past and vandalized his hospital before killing him in broad daylight while he was on duty.

Appalled over the cold reactions of law enforcing agencies and the increasing frequency of crime against medical professionals, Dr Ramesh Goyal, president, Indian Medical Association (IMA), Haryana told India Medical Times, “Dr Manish was beaten twice before on professional grounds and the action by police was disappointing.”

“Though the culprits of his (Dr Garg’s) murder have been arrested, the incident has once again brought to light that the administration and police of Haryana is unaware of the existing laws that are meant to protect doctors and arrest the perpetrators of crime without any delay. Police is totally unaware of such existing laws and there is an urgent need to sensitise both police and public if our safety to work fearlessly has to be ensured,” said Dr Goyal.

He further said, “We could have resorted to strike and aggression but they only increase a common man’s misery. Instead, we have decided to adopt and implement some measures to sensitise both administration and public on the laws and their implementation.”

Dr Goyal added, “We have appealed the court to direct the administration to make police aware about the laws meant to protect us. At the state level, a proposal to install CCTVs in every clinic has been mooted. We have also decided to print and distribute copies of the Clinical Establishments Act for more awareness. A request to stick a copy of the bill in clinics has also been made so that everyone can know and understand the laws. Any further action will be taken once investigations prove that he was murdered on professional grounds.”

Though sharp criticism and demand for investigation into Dr Garg’s murder is persistent from IMA chapters of both Haryana and Punjab, any concrete investigation by the Haryana government is still awaited.

Dr Sudhir Raj, president, IMA Punjab, told India Medical Times, “We are with our Haryana counterparts. When we can be punished over a small clerical mistake in cases under the PNDT (Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act, how can a doctor be murdered to uphold the same law in letter and spirit? Is it what we will get to practise our profession ethically? Patients and the state administration need to be aware about relevant laws, otherwise we will not feel free to practise.”

Dr Neeraj Nagpal said, “We appeal to the government of Haryana to fast track the prosecution of killers of Dr Manish Garg as well as of the police officials who conspired with the accused to botch up the initial investigation when FIR was lodged by Dr Manish Garg for vandalism at his hospital in December 2013.”

“Doctors are pilloried in TV and print media for sex selective abortions and consequent declining female ratio. Here a doctor who stood up to the societal evil and tried to uphold the PNDT Act was rewarded with brutal assault in December 2013 and now has been murdered. I request IMA Haryana as well as the government of Haryana to honour his memory in a suitable fashion so that his sacrifice is not forgotten. Not taking action now will discourage qualified doctors from settling in remote and backward areas,” Dr Nagpal said.

He further said, “Though initial reaction towards the incident was not aggressive from our side due to confusion over the exact cause of the murder, we are generally disappointed over the vague response by the police in handling such issues. I am in favour of some aggressive actions, if the violence against doctors has a ground and logical conclusion to do so.”

Courtesy:India Medical Times


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