The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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SC clears decks for diploma ‘doctors’

New Delhi, Feb. 17: The Supreme Court today said diploma-holders in Bengal had the right to treat diseases in the branches of medicine in which they had obtained a diploma from the state ‘Community Medical Service’.

The diploma-holders, usually appointed at rural healthcentres, will enjoy the right to prescribe medicines and issue ‘sick’ or ‘death’ certificates.

The diploma-holders, however, will not be allowed to carry out private practice. They will have to treat diseases, prescribe medicines and issue certificates on their capacity as government employees posted at dispensaries.

The ruling clears the air for thousands of such practitioners in the state and settles an issue debated in Calcutta High Court and the apex court for more than 16 years.

A division bench of Justice S. Rajendra Babu and Justice Shivraj V. Patil asked the West Bengal Medical Council to “include the names of all the concerned diploma-holders in the state medical register within six months”.

“(The) appellants’ (the Community Medical Service diploma-holders’) right to prescribe medicines cannot be denied,” the court said.

“Once the right to treat is recognised, the right to prescribe medicines or issue necessary certificates flows from it.

“Or else, the right to treat cannot be completely protected,” the apex court said while setting aside a judgment of a Calcutta High Court division bench.

“The appellants are validly holding the right to treat certain diseases. So, their right to issue prescriptions or certificates cannot be detached from their right to treat. Such right to issue certificates or prescriptions is imbibed in the right to treat. One cannot and shall not be separated from the other.”

“Thou shall not prescribe, but treat’. Does this commandment stand the test of legal scrutiny' This is the stark and simple question to be decided in this case,” the apex court said.

The controversy has its origins in a government order issued on June 23, 1987. The government issued a corrigendum and the diploma, till then known as ‘diploma in Medicine for Community Physicians’, was rechristened ‘diploma in Community Medical Service”, dropping the word ‘medicine’.

Apprehending that the renaming of the diploma would affect their rights, the appellants moved a single-judge bench of the high court.

The government assured the court that the state would provide jobs to the diploma- holders in accordance with policies.

The single-judge bench said the diploma-holders would not have the right to private practice and “entry in the register is only for the right to prescribe medicines and issue certificates”.

On appeal, a division bench of the same high court allowed the diploma holders to treat some diseases.

After another round of legal wrangle, the government issued a notification on the right to treat some diseases but disallowed the diploma-holders from issuing certificates. This was eventually challenged in the apex court.

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