Published: 06th December 2021
Centre will appeal in the SC to expedite EWS hearing and NEET PG counselling: Health minister tells protesting junior doctors
Ten days into the various forms of protests being registered by resident doctors across India against the delay in NEET PG counselling, here are how things stand
Striking doctors, a resurgent virus and an administration trying to get its house in order — that seems to be the story going into what seems like the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India. Junior doctors across the country are agitating against the delay in counselling for the candidates who cleared the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) Postgraduate exam this year. This would bolster the healthcare system with a fresh batch of about 45,000 doctors.
The deficit of these PG students for the past 12 months has led to the strain of overwork and burnout amongst junior doctors in the country, what with the second wave of COVID-19 wreaking unprecedented havoc and the healthcare fraternity constantly on alert due to the virus. It comes as no surprise then that the doctors were extremely bothered when, on November 25, the Central Government asked for four weeks' time to review the qualifying criteria for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions, including the NEET-PG All India Quota.
The Federation of Resident Doctors Association (FORDA) met with Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya today, December 6, and were told that the centre is looking to appeal in the Supreme Court for a hearing date sooner than the allotted January 6. Doctors part of the FORDA have been boycotting all non-emergency services across the country ever since December 1, when the Central Government put together a three-member committee to study the criteria. This was after the Health Minister had said that some decision regarding the expedition of NEET counselling would be taken on December 1. "We have escalated our protest, and will now be boycotting both emergency and non-emergency services. The agitation will continue until there is some concrete decision on the NEET counselling. Doctors will not let up until that happens," says Dr Manish Kumar, President, FORDA.
The Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors is the latest to join the list of protesting RDs. They claim that doctors are on the verge of a breakdown and the current state of the staff at hospitals is not sustainable. They have declared that they will be opting out of Out-Patient Duties. The threat of the Omicron variant is also building up now and the doctors claim that with hospitals badly short-staffed, a possible third wave would be hard to manage by the present healthcare infrastructure. The doctors have also conducted demonstrations against the delay and the Centre's alleged apathy towards the issue.
In Uttar Pradesh too, doctors have exempted themselves from OPD work and are conducting demonstrations to show solidarity with doctors across the country. Dr Ayush Kapoor, an RD at SN Medical College told ANI that hospitals are working on almost one-third of their strength and that they demand NEET counselling be expedited at the earliest.
Junior doctors in Karnataka were already protesting against the government's delay in giving COVID allowances and the decision to hike the fee. When doctors' associations across the country announced their strikes against the NEET-PG counselling issue, they declared that that would go on their roster of grievances as well. The students have been boycotting all OPD and non-emergency services for the last six days, along with demonstrations on medical campuses across the state. A protesting doctor told The Times of India that they have been demanding the government to roll back the order for fee hike given the fact that the students were not able to gain much exposure due to the pandemic and were inundated with COVID-care duty only. Some joined the protest by donning black badges but continued with their duties.
In Telangana, the doctors asked why the process cannot be fast-tracked when so many lives are potentially at stake. "The third wave is a real threat. We are going headfirst into it with a healthcare system that is extremely short-staffed. In fact the shortage is impacting third-year students as well, who have their exams coming up, and are also required to focus on submitting their projects and thesis. Doctors are working 32-hour shifts. It's inhumane," claimed Dr Sagar Dharmasula. At present demonstrations and boycotting of all non-emergency services are underway at some major state-run hospitals such as Gandhi Hospital (Hyderabad), Osmania General Hospital (Hyderabad), Kakatiya Medical College (Warangal) and in Nizamabad District Hospital.
Doctors on strike in Tamil Nadu spoke with the Director of Medical Education in the state who promised that additional manpower will be assigned to aid the doctors. Following that meeting, the students had said they would resume services in a few days' time.
The committee was given time on December 3 to submit its report within three weeks and the hearing on the petitions filed by General category students who have cleared NEET-PG will be held on January 6.