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New Delhi:

Hearing a PIL on alleged non-payment of salary to doctors during the coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court said on Friday that “it is a kind of war, and you do not keep soldiers unhappy during the war”.

A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.R. Shah said: “It is kind of war. You do not keep soldiers unhappy during the war. So travel the extra mile to make the corona warriors feel safe.”

The observation from the apex court came while hearing a plea by a doctor, alleging salaries of doctors involved in tackling Covid-19, are either not being paid or cut or being delayed.

The observation was made by the bench after it took note of reports, which alleged that doctors have not been paid.

“Can you see that doctors were on strike recently? This should not require the court’s intervention. You need to do more. This is a matter of concern regarding the doctors,” noted the bench.

The bench also suggested the Centre that it can channel extra money to address the issue. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta contended before the bench that he was not opposing this petition, and it was not adversarial litigation.

Senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan, appearing for the petitioner, said that government doctors were being subjected to wage deduction, and private hospitals should also not cut salaries. On that, Mehta said: “It seems you have reviewed an ad hoc representation.”

Justice Shah said: “You cannot work half-heartedly.”

Mehta contended before the bench that if there are better suggestions, then they can certainly be accommodated.

Justice Bhushan, on the aspect of accommodation, said the Solicitor General needs to check what can be done. Mehta replied that guidelines have been formulated by WHO, ICMR, and other experts. If there is any other better suggestion, please suggest, he added.

Vishwanathan argued that high risk exposure will be quarantined, and if the doctors test positive and remain asymptomatic, then they will follow mild protocol. “This distinction is problematic,” he added. The bench replied that the court cannot judge what is high risk and low risk.

The bench insisted that the Centre should do more and make sure that the concerns of the doctors are addressed. The top court listed the matter for further hearing on June 17.

The doctor in the petition has also questioned the Centre’s standard operation procedures (SOP) making their 14-day quarantine non-mandatory. In an affidavit, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said: “a healthcare worker properly protected by PPEs in workplace settings carries no additional risk to their families or children, as suggested or otherwise.”

The Central government said that the number of Covid-19 cases is constantly increasing and at some point in time in near future, apart from existing hospitals, a large number of temporary make-shift hospitals will have to be created.

Hence, conserving the healthcare workforce is needed for the hour in order to cater to the anticipated patient load in the hour of distress.

The affidavit said its risk assessment approach is also in line with guidelines issued by Centre for Disease Control, Atlanta, US that only high risk exposure needs to be quarantined for 14 days.

“Hence, mandatory quarantine of 14 days, after rostering duty of healthcare workers if 7/14 days is therefore not justified,” added the affidavit.

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