October 15, 2008

Maharashtra Doctors get a legal shield against attacks

Doctors have finally got protection from the frequent attacks they face. The laws have been made stricter across the state: such attacks will now constitute a non-bailable offence, with the offender facing up to three years in jail.

The state cabinet approved the draft of an ordinance with a strict set of penalties on Wednesday, marking the culmination of a long struggle by doctors.

Among the penalties in the Maharashtra Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage of Property) Act, 2008, is a Rs 50,000 fine on anyone who attacks a doctor or a hospital employee. What should dissuade vandalism of hospital property is a provision that anyone causing such damage would be fined twice the value of the property that he or she has destroyed.

Doctors said the need for such laws was deeply felt. Only on Tuesday night, Sassoon General Hospital was attacked by relatives and friends of a boy who died.

“Doctors were fed up of the attacks. Time and again we had approached the authorities including Home Minister R R Patil. Now, after a struggle of two years, the cabinet has finally passed the ordinance,” said Dr D K Shirole, president of the state unit of the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

The IMA’s city unit president, Dr Avinash Bhondwe, too was delighted. He credited their October 10 token strike for spurring the state government into action.

Doctors had intensified their agitation citing several instances where hospital property was destroyed and staff humiliated, at places such as Malad, Amravati, Beed and Chandrapur.

The doctors’ cell of the Nationalist Congress Party agreed that the strike had worked in their favour. “Doctors had been seething and their resentment showed when they went on a flash strike on October 10.

The government had to take action,” said Dr Dilip Ghule, chief of the cell. He mentioned attacks on doctors at several places, such as Mumbai, Beed, Akola, Amravati, Nashik and Latur.

The ambit of the ordinance runs across medical units and staff. It will benefit not only doctors but also nursing staff, interns, medical and nursing students and clerical staff; not only registered hospitals but also private ones and clinics, besides units runs by government local bodies like municipal corporations, zilla parishads and panchayat samitis.

The government-run Sassoon Hospital has engaged 100 security personnel after Tuesday’s attack. They will start functioning with a week, said Dr Nirmala Borade, acting dean of BJ Medical College. Pune Zilha Suraksha Sangh will provide the personnel.

As of now, Sassoon, frequently the target of attacks, has only 21 Class IV employees as watchmen

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