Supreme Court Sternly Directs Centre to Ensure Payment of Salaries to Doctors Fighting COVID-19

The Supreme Court has directed the Centre to issue directions to State governments regarding payment of salaries and quarantine facility; while hearing the plea in Dr. Aarushi Jain vs Union of India that demanded separate residential facilities for the frontline health workers fighting COVID-19. The Apex Court asked for the centre and state governments’ compliance.

It warned that non-conformity of the same will lead to action against Chief Secretaries of states under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Hence, making them criminally liable. The bench passed an order that tasked the Centre to file the report on payment within a month. It also stated that there should be no denial of quarantine facilities; to health care workers fighting against the pandemic on the frontlines. The bench compried of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaushal, and MR Shah.

Petitioner’s Take

Legal counsel to petitioners, Advocate KV Vishwanathan expressed his concerns over the irregular payment of salaries to healthcare workers; and lack of transparency surrounding details of accommodation for their quarantine. The quarantine option isn’t available to doctors treating COVID-19 unless they are under the high-risk category. Moreover, he submitted that the Court direct states to file affidavits; regarding the provision of accommodation and salary payment to healthcare professionals.

Solicitor General’s reply

Filing his reply, Tushar Mehta agreed with the Court’s stance on payment of salaries and assured the steady execution of the same. Further, the SG submitted that doctors and medical professionals coming in contact with COVID-19 patients will be put under quarantine for a period of one week. After one week, the healthcare worker will be tested; to determine whether or not there is a requirement for further quarantine.

Directions issued by the Court

The top court pointed out that quarantine for doctors, unless they are in the high-risk exposure category, has been done away with. It also clarified that there ought to be no differentiation as far as the healthcare sector is concerned. It asked the Centre to issue immediate directions to states for payment of salaries and necessary quarantine facilities to doctors and health worker treating COVID patients. Hence, it asked the Centre to file a compliance report within four weeks on payment of salaries and quarantine facilities.

Thus, the court has listed the matter for hearing after four weeks. On June 12, the three-judge bench started hearing the plea that raised questions on the Centre’s May 15, 2020 decision. Explicitly, the decision stated that 14-day quarantine was not mandatory for doctors. The petitioner was provided time to submit suggestions to the Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.