Orissa on Friday invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against nearly 3,000 government doctors after they refused to call off a strike to protest against the dismissal of three colleagues.
The ESMA is a central act, which prohibits strikes in certain jobs, and violations of it can lead to imprisonment and penalties. The act empowers the government to arrest the violator without a warrant.
"The state government has invoked ESMA against the state doctors after accepting the resignation of seven office-bearers of the doctors' union," a senior official of the state health department told IANS.
"In the interest of the public. it is necessary to prohibit strikes in the form of cessation of work by doctors so that health care delivery in the state is not disrupted," a notification issued by the state home department said.
The state government last month dismissed Bibek Swain, an anaesthesiologist, Santanu Sahu, a surgeon, and Anup Nath Sharma, an orthopaedic specialist, for allegedly cutting off the palms of bodies of five tribals while performing autopsies in 2006.
Nearly 3,000 government doctors submitted their resignations Monday to protest the three doctors' dismissals and threatened not to join work from Nov 9 if the orders were not withdrawn.
State Health Minister Sanatana Bisi said the government has accepted the resignations of seven doctors and will act against others if they do not join work.
"All the seven doctors are office-bearers of the Orissa Medical Service Association (OMSA)," he said.
The minister said that the government has taken measures to ensure that essential medical services are maintained if the doctors do not join work from November 9.
"We are firm on our decision (to hold the protest)," said Madhusudan Mishra, the president of OMSA.
"Several doctors posted in remote areas have already left hospitals and are heading towards state capital Bhubaneswar to join our protest," he said.
The tribals were killed in police firing during protests in the coastal district of Jajpur.
Of the 500 tribals protesting the construction undertaken by Tata Steel at the industrial complex in Kalinga Nagar, about 100 km from Bhubaneswar, at least 13 were killed during the police firing Jan 2, 2006.
The doctors said they had cut off the palms of the tribals following directions from the administration and police officials.
The incident led to a major controversy. Following pressure from various human right groups, the state government had suspended the three doctors the same year.