Toughening its stand over the continuing strike by junior doctors, the Andhra Pradesh government on Tuesday threatened to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), under which they could be arrested, if they fail to return to duty from Wednesday.
Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy warned that strict action would be taken against the junior doctors if they failed to call off their strike on Wednesday. "The junior doctors will be responsible for this," he told newspersons.
Under the act, the junior doctors may be arrested and sent to jail if they remain absent from duty.
However, the junior doctors, who are mainly postgraduate students of government-run medical colleges, are adamant. They have decided to continue with the strike till all their demands are met, including the arrest of two legislators of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) who allegedly led attacks on doctors in two hospitals in Hyderabad.
A day after bringing an ordinance to make attacks on doctors a cognisable and non-bailable offence, the chief minister came down heavily on the junior doctors for continuing the strike for the fifth consecutive day.
Terming as "unfortunate" the stand taken by the junior doctors, Reddy said the demand for the arrest of a legislator was not proper. He said one legislator (Afsar Khan) was arrested after he allegedly attacked doctors of Niloufer Children's Hospital, but defended the other legislator, Ahmed Pasha Khadri, saying he was not involved in the attack on doctors at the Government Maternity Hospital.
The chief minister said the doctors were demanding their rights but were forgetting their responsibilities. "We have gone out of the way to bring an ordinance for them. There is no such law in the entire country but there is still no change in their attitude," he said.
The chief minister's threat came a day after the high court once again took a serious view of the strike and asked the government to spell out the measures it would take to deal with the strike.
The state cabinet on Monday decided to bring the ordinance, under which a person may be sentenced to three years imprisonment for attacking doctors.
Following this decision, the Indian Medical Association and Andhra Pradesh Government Doctors Association called off their statewide strike. However, more than 5,000 junior doctors in government-run hospitals across the state continued their strike, badly affecting medical services.
This is the second strike by junior doctors this month. It began on Friday when junior doctors were allegedly attacked by relatives of a woman prisoner who died during treatment at the Government Maternity Hospital.
On Dec 2, an attack on doctors at Niloufer Children's Hospital by a Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) legislator and his supporters had sparked an indefinite strike. The 11-day strike, which allegedly resulted in the death of 40 children at the hospital due to medical negligence, was called off last Wednesday following a threat from the high court to initiate penal action against them.