Resident Doctors have been protesting across the country for the past one month demanding expedition of admissions and counselling for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Exam Test (Post Graduate). OPD services have been suspended across various hospitals and as the agitation intensifies, several resident doctors association (RDAs) have threatened to withdraw routine medical services.
The NEET-PG exams conducted by the National Board of Examinations (NBE) which under normal circumstances are held in January of every year and counselling of which begins in March, was postponed in lieu of the Covid-19 pandemic. Exams were announced in April 2021, but, postponed just two days before they were scheduled to be held. Finally, exams were held in September 2021 and counselling was supposed to begin in October. However, admissions and counselling have yet to begin because of a deadlock in the Supreme Court.
A deadlock has emerged because the apex court is hearing various pleas challenging the EWS reservations introduced by the Central Government. On July 29, 2021, the government introduced a 27% quota for the OBCs and a 10% quota for EWS students seeking admission to undergraduate and postgraduate courses in medical colleges of India. Currently, for a student to avail the benefits of the EWS category, his/her annual family income should not exceed 8 Lakhs and the family must not hold agricultural land or residential plot of more than a specified threshold.
The newly introduced EWS quote has been challenged on a number of grounds. One petition challenged the income criteria of the quota. Another petition challenged the reservations in NEET – PG itself arguing that such quotas cannot be there in higher degree courses. The court issued a notice to the Central government in the first week of September demanding its response.
However, the Centre had consistently failed to file an affidavit on how it determined the criteria of the EWS category. Despite, multiple associations by the Supreme Court, the Centre did not submit the affidavit. Meanwhile, the Centre has assured the Supreme Court that it would not proceed with the counselling until the court decided on the validity of these reservations.
On November 25, the Centre informed the Supreme Court that it will review the income criteria it determined for the EWS quota and asked for four weeks for this exercise. The Supreme Court, during the hearing, also gave the option to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to proceed with the admissions without implementing the EWS quota this year to which the Solicitor General responded that they would not want to delay the implementation of the quota. The Court rejected Mehta's insistence that this year’s EWS reservation be implemented using the current income criteria. The next hearing is scheduled for 6 Jan, 2022.
Among this deadlock, the doctors have taken to the streets with a set of demands. The demands have been placed both before the Central government – expedite the submission of the report determining the income criteria of the EWS quota – as well as the Supreme Court – fast track the hearings on the issue.
With delay in counselling, 50,000 students who have cleared the NEET-PG exams are yet to join as junior resident doctors and provide their services. In the absence of a new post-graduate batch entering medical colleges, existing resident doctors are facing the pressure who have to work over-time - 100 hours a stretch at the height of the second wave - with little to no rest to make up for the shortage. This has taken a considerable toll on their mental and physical well being with many complaining of slipping into depression or considering leaving this profession. The protests have precipitated now because of the indications of an inevitable third wave amid rising Omicron cases. The resident doctors don’t want a repeat of the suffering they went through during the second wave that crippled health care services and infrastructure across India with many doctors and nurses sacrificing their lives serving at the front lives of the pandemic. With the third batch of junior doctors on the verge of completing their PG course and graduating, the current serving junior doctors fear a further reduction in the already thinly stretched and overburdened staff.
The protests intensified after the protesting doctors marching from the Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) to the Supreme Court on Monday 27 December, were allegedly lathi-charged, thrashed, abused and detained by the Delhi Police with women resident doctors complaining that they were manhandled by male constables. The Federation of Resident Doctors (FORDA), representing the resident doctors called the developments of Monday “a black day in the history of the medical fraternity”. The police however, denied these allegations. Additional DCP (Central) Rohit Meena said that a group of resident doctors had blocked a main road without any authorised permission causing traffic jams and inconvenience to commuters and the general public. The resident doctors held a protest march the next day demanding an apology from the Delhi Police. They marched towards the Union Health Minister's residence where they were confronted by the police. Many were detained at the Sarojini Nagar Police Station.
After this weeks developments, FAIMA (Federation of All India Medical Association) and AIIMS have expressed their support for the resident doctors threatening a shutdown of all non-emergency services.
Ordinary citizens have also been caught in the cross hairs. Many patients are being turned away from hospitals because there aren’t enough staff. Resident doctors however, have clarified that they have taken into account the interests of the patients and thus, senior resident doctors are still on duty attending the sick and needy, and that no emergency services have been shut down.
Protesting doctors clapped, banged utensils and showered flower petals, claiming that they have returned all adulation they had received the previous year when they were showered with flowers mid-air from helicopters in appreciation of their service to the nation during the pandemic. They claim that they don’t need hollow symbolic gestures of appreciation but real actions and acceptance of their legitimate demands.
On 28 December, Union Health Minister, Mansukh Mandaviya has urged the protesting resident doctors to withdraw their protest assuring that the three-member committee constituted to review the EWs quota will be duly placed before the court hearing on January 6, 2022. He also expressed regret on the confrontation between the resident doctors and the Delhi Police. However, he said that not much can be done in the issue because the matter is sub-judice awaiting judgement.
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