oppn parties Bonds Signed By Doctors: Government Cannot Act Illegally To Withhold Degrees

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Bonds Signed By Doctors: Government Cannot Act Illegally To Withhold Degrees

By Sunil Garodia

About the Author

Sunil Garodia Editor-in-Chief of indiacommentary.com. Current Affairs analyst and political commentator. Writes for a number of publications.
The Calcutta High Court has directed the West Bengal government to return all the degrees and certificates of a doctor who has chosen to pay up Rs 20 lakh instead of joining duty at a rural centre as per the terms of the bond executed by him when taking up a post graduate course at a state government hospital. Rahul Bansal, a doctor from Madhya Pradesh, had enrolled for a specialist course at the Institute of Medical Education & Research at the SSKM Hospital. At that time, he had signed the bond specifying that he will either work for the state government for five years or pay Rs 20 lakh to get released from the obligation. The West Bengal Health University (WBHU) had kept all his medical degrees and certificates are surety. Now, when he decided to pay the amount, WBHU refused to return his certificates by accepting the money, citing shortage of specialist doctors in state hospitals.

This was illegal and arm-twisting of the worst nature. A bond is a special agreement which binds the parties to the terms specified therein. If the government had allowed an escape clause to the candidate, it was wrong to rescind on it and force the doctor to serve in government hospitals by withholding his degrees. Aggrieved by the government decision, the doctor approached the Calcutta high court where a single judge bench ruled in his favour and ordered the government to accept the payment and release his documents. But the state government preferred an appeal before a division bench, which again ruled in favour of the doctor. Despite reservations, the government had no choice and he was allowed to go.

The state government argued before the division bench that since the state was facing an acute shortage of specialist doctors, it could not let go of someone who had completed his course at subsidized fee at a state medical facility. But that is more a social and administrative issue. The court rightly took it up as a legal issue and was of the opinion that the candidate was free to choose between the two options of either working for the government for five years or paying up the amount fixed to get a release from the bond. The government also fears that this decision will prompt the 42 other doctors who have filed similar petitions to pay the money and get released.

But this is something the government cannot legally avoid. The terms of the bond are crystal clear and the government will have to abide by them. The courts will never rule in its favour to make bonded labour out of doctors. If the government wishes to have more specialist doctors, it will have to work out another way to get them. That way will have to be non-discriminatory and non-restrictive. No government rule can force a person to work against his wishes. He or she can be penalized for taking up a subsidized course and refusing to serve the government but if he or she pays up the penalty amount, the government cannot apply strong arm tactics to retain them.

One feels that this problem cannot be solved by sticks. There have to be some carrots also. Maybe, if specialist doctors are offered double salary to work in rural centres with two days off to take up private practice in nearby urban centres, the interests of both the government and the doctor will be protected. This might even interest existing specialists to serve the nation. Out of the box solutions, instead of restrictions, are required to address this problem.