LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday ordered the protesting doctors of the Young Doctors Association (YDA) to call off their strike and return to their duties in emergency wards of all the government hospitals in the province by 9am on Saturday (today).
The court also restrained the Punjab government from harassing and arresting young doctors and creating hurdles in their way of resuming emergency services. “This court expects doctors to show bona fide and goodwill by calling off the strike immediately and commencing work at emergencies at 9am on Saturday. Likewise, in view of the statement of the Punjab health secretary, no unlawful hindrance or restriction will be caused in resumption of work by doctors. In addition, the Punjab government shall not cause undue harassment or conduct raids at the residences of doctors,” the order said.
Justice Ejazul Ahsan was hearing a petition, seeking cancellation of licences of protesting doctors, scrutiny of their medical degrees and strict disciplinary and penal action against them. The Judicial Activism Panel moved the petition in the public interest through its counsel Muhammad Azhar Siddique.
The court also directed the YDA leadership, including President Hamid Butt, to appear before the court on Saturday and asked Additional Advocate General Faisal Zaman Khan to produce investigation records of a murder case registered against doctors after the death of an infant, Fahd, at the Mayo Hospital during the strike. The court also summoned the case investigation officer on Saturday. Moreover, the YDA has been asked to submit their viewpoint and reply to the petition by July 9.
The Pakistan Medical & Dental Council (PMDC) will furnish its reply in a week’s time. As proceedings started on Friday, no representative of the YDA was present in the court and their counsel said his clients were unable to turn updue to fear of arrest. At this, the court directed the Punjab government to give free access to young doctors to appear in the court and deferred the hearing till 2pm.
As the hearing resumed, YDA General Secretary Nasir Abbas appeared before the court and said doctors were being harassed by the government and raids were being conducted at their residences.
He said there was no service structure for the doctors and they had been granted promotion for the first time in 14 years. He said they were compelled to go on strike, as the government was not willing to heed their genuine grievances. He assured the court that doctors were ready to resume work at emergencies if their arrested or detained colleagues were released. He said no one came forward to help them and even the courts did nothing for them.
Nasir alleged that a murder case was registered against the doctors at the behest of PML-N leader Salman Rafique, as the complainant in the case was a resident of his constituency. He said eight doctors were booked and four arrested, adding that during the negotiation, the government promised converting Section 302 into Section 322, but this had not been done so far.
At this, the judge remarked that “nobody disagreed with your views. You are the cream of Pakistani society and you deserve to have a service structure on the pattern of the army, judiciary and bureaucracy.” The court said it seemed that the disagreement was only on modalities, adding that decision-makers and all stakeholders should sit together to find out a viable solution.
The judge observed that the issue was mishandled, which had worsened the situation in hospitals and the people were the ultimate sufferers. It is the duty of the court to protect the rights of both sides — doctors and patients as well, the court said.
Punjab Health Secretary Arif Nadeem told the court that 32 doctors were detained, but all of them had been released after senior doctors met Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. But the doctors did not call off the strike. Responding to the court’s query, he said the government had no objection if doctors were ready to resume work. He, however, pointed out that the government was also recruiting new doctors.
The provincial law officer stated that YDA General Secretary Nasir Abbas, during the hearing of the suo motu case in the Supreme Court, had undertaken that they would not go on strike and by opting for a strike they were violating the SC’s order. He said the issue of doctors’ service structure was pending at five different forums. “Anxiety and lack of confidence is high on both sides. The situation will cool down once the misconceptions are removed and confidence building measures are taken,” the court said.
Dr Abdul Basit, counsel for the PMDC, informed the court that the Council had received two references against the striking doctors on charges of misconduct. He sought the court’s permission to proceed against the doctors, but the court restrained him from doing so for the time being. He pointed out that forming the YDA also falls under the definition of misconduct.