The Punjab government and the Young Doctors Association Punjab on Friday interpreted the Lahore High Court’s order – telling the doctors to call off their strike at public hospitals and directing the government not to harass or arrest doctors – to suit their respective stances.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan issued the order on a petition filed by the Judicial Activism Panel, which seeks the cancellation of licences of protesting doctors and wants disciplinary action taken against them. The order read: “This court expects of doctors to show bona fide and good will by calling off strike immediately and commencing work at emergencies at 9am, Saturday. Likewise, in view of statement of the [health secretary] no unlawful hindrance or restriction would be caused in resumption of work by doctors. In addition, [the] Punjab government shall not cause undue harassment or conduct raids at the residences of the doctors.”
The doctors said that the court had directed them to go back to work in Emergency Wards only. The Punjab government, on the other hand, insisted that the doctors had been instructed to end their strike and resume duties at Emergency Wards, Out Patient Departments and Indoor Departments (wards). Khawaja Salman Rafique, special assistant to the chief minister on health, said that the doctors would be guilty of contempt if they did not resume their duties.
Dr Nasir Bokhari, a YDA spokesperson, told reporters after the court hearing, that the court had instructed the government not to initiate any cases against the doctors. He also said the government would have to withdraw all cases against the doctors if it wanted them to resume their duties at emergency wards of public hospitals.
Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and Rafique, while vowing to follow court orders to the letter, did not say anything about withdrawing the show-cause notices the government had issued to 11 doctors on Friday. The doctors who received the notices under the Punjab Employees Efficiency Discipline and Accountability (PEEDA) Act 2006 include the Young Doctors Association Punjab (YDAP) president Dr Hamid Butt.
Other doctors who were served show-cause notices are Dr Ajmal Javed and Dr Salman Shakeel at Lahore General Hospital; Dr Muhammad Arshad at Children Hospital, Lahore; Dr Usman Zafar at Mayo Hospital, Lahore; Dr Zulqarnain Butt at Services Hospital, Lahore; Dr Rashid Ali and Dr Shabbir Warraich at Shaikh Zayed Hospital Rahim Rar Khan; Dr Ali Waqas at Nishtar Hospital, Multan; Dr Maroof Vaince at Allied Hospital, Faisalabad; and Dr Nasir Vakeel at Benazir Bhutto Hospital, Rawalpindi.
A Health Department official said that the notices were served before the LHC passed its order, adding that a notice once served couldn’t be withdrawn. “There is a process. It has to be followed,” he said.
Meanwhile, most of the doctors continued their strike on Friday. A doctor, who is not a YDA member, told The Express Tribune that YDA members were telling other doctors not to resume duties and threatening them with ‘consequences’ if they did. He said that some of them had received text messages, warning them against going back to work. “A female medical officer who recently joined Sir Ganga Ram Hospital had her mobile phone number on her Facebook page. It was reposted in several groups. A lot of doctors called her, threatened her and sent her obnoxious text messages. She was so disturbed that she changed her phone number and didn’t report for duty the next day,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2012.