Covid warrior: Maharashtra doctor takes the fight to protect healthcare workers to Supreme CourtUpdated: Apr 27, 2020, 10:15 IST
When the Centre brought in a landmark ordinance on April 22, amending a 123-year-old Act to enhance protection for health workers and frontline staff battling Covid-19, doctors across the country welcomed the decision. Among them, Dr Jerryl Banait, 27, a dermatologist from Nagpur, heaved a sigh of relief.
Hearing of frontline staff getting infected as well as cases of assault against medical workers, Banait grew concerned for the safety of his elder brother Dr Yash Banait, 29, who was leading a team of 30 doctors at Mumbai’s international airport, to screen suspected coronavirus patients.
“This had to stop, and the only way out was through the judiciary,” said Dr Banait, who decided to move the Supreme Court (SC) against the Central government in March. “The main aim of my petition was to provide police protection to health workers; jail term for assault on frontline staff and doctors, and ensure availability of personal protective equipment (PPE).”
Banait failed to get his petition admitted multiple times before the SC. “By the time I had completed my research and prepared the final draft, a surge in Covid-19 cases began in Maharashtra and a partial lockdown was already in place. I could not physically submit my petition. Even the postal service had shut down,” he said.
After calls and emails to SC judges, advocates, and politicians, Banait began losing confidence. “Fortunately, after a reminder email to the Chief Justice of India and relentless efforts from my advocates Astha Sharma and Prastut Dalvi, the plea was admitted,” he said.
On April 1, the SC heard the matter and issued notices to the Central government. On April 8, a bench of Justices Ashok Bhusan and Ravindra Bhatt passed directions for immediate procurement of PPE; police protection for health workers at hospitals and those collecting samples on the field, and necessary action against persons inflicting violence or obstructing duties of medical staff. Subsequently, the Centre and states issued advisories and notifications based on the order.
Last Wednesday, the Centre, citing the SC order based on Banait’s petition, also amended the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 as the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, making attacks on doctors and health workers a punishable offence with imprisonment up to seven years and fines up to ₹7 lakh. It also provided for expedited investigations and imposing stringent penalties on vandalism and damage to property. President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday gave assent to the ordinance and it is to be ratified by both houses of Parliament once the lockdown ends.
“The efforts are nothing but a cog in the larger wheel to support countless doctors and medical staff. They are the foot soldiers at the vanguard in this war against Covid-19,” said Banait.
Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD) president Dr Rahul Wagh, said, “When we don’t end up going home for days due to our duty, and our family members hear of incidents of violence, their immediate reaction is to ask us to leave everything and come home. After a long time, due to this timely petition, and consequent decisions, there is relief.”
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) said it was a long-drawn fight with the combined endeavours of the entire medical fraternity and individuals. “Amidst our attempt to address the surge in cases of violence against health workers, we may not have heard of individual efforts. However, we are aware of the recent petition and the SC order. This gives the entire fraternity more impetus to strengthen our focus in combating this grave crisis being faced by the country,” said Dr Rajan Sharma, national president, IMA.
Dr RV Asokan, general secretary, IMA, said, “When there are multiple representations from society in the same direction, change is inevitable. We must not discount any effort to bring this change.”