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Order of Kerala High Court to register FIR in one hour in cases of attack on doctors – Need of the hour

The order of Kerala High Court to register an FIR in one hour in cases of violence against the healthcare workers is the reflection of aversion of various stake holders meant to secure the safety of healthcare workers from violence. The Kerala High Court has expressed shock on the 138 attacks on the healthcare professionals in the year 2021 in Kerala. Unfortunately the attacks on healthcare professionals are not limited to Kerala alone but are across India. Yet the Union Government doesn’t have a centralized database on workplace violence in the healthcare sector. Interestingly, in response to a question in the Lok Sabha in 2019, the Union government said “health” and “law and order” were state subjects, so it hadn’t maintained figures of its own. Also, the state government have also not taken the violence on healthcare professional seriously as no state across the country has maintained such a database either.

The covid pandemic provided temporary respite, when the Indian government introduced an ordinance called ‘The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance’ in 2020 by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (Mohfw). The ordinance provided provision to levy those convicted of harassing or assaulting a healthcare worker a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh and be imprisoned for three months to five years. In case the injury (inflicted on the worker) was serious, the convicted person would have to pay a higher fine and/or spend more time in prison. Unfortunately , the government will revoke the Epidemic Diseases Act once the pandemic ends – at which point there will be no national law to deter violence against healthcare workers.

The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (Mohfw) did draft the ‘Health Services Personnel and Clinical Establishments (Prohibition of Violence and Damage of Property) Bill’ in 2020.  The legislation sought to penalise those assaulting doctors and other healthcare professionals with imprisonment not less than six months, which can be extended to five years and a fine not less than Rs 50,000 and which may extend to Rs 5 lakh.  The health ministry was also keen to have the Bill passed in Parliament – but the Union home ministry stood in the way. The home ministry said existing sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) would suffice to tackle healthcare workplace violence. The ministry also argued that passing a law particularly for healthcare workers would open the door to similar demands from lawyers and other professionals.

The order of Kerala High Court is an opportunity for various organisations of doctors. These organisations should file petition in High Courts of State with evidence of violence against doctors in their State and should seek the same relief from the High Courts as provided by the Kerala High Court.  The order passed by Kerala High Court will put immense pressure on the police department to book the guilty and will also work as deterrent against violence on doctors.

Khalil Girkar

Advocate, Mumbai High Court