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Quota battle stirs back to life

New Delhi, Aug. 22: Doctors and medical students, who scuffled with police on Delhi’s streets today, have threatened to go on a nationwide strike within 24 hours of the quota bill being tabled in Parliament.

The morning after the Union cabinet cleared the bill to grant 27 per cent reservation to other backward classes in government-aided institutions of higher education, close to a thousand protesters descended on Jantar Mantar, shouting slogans and burning pictures of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“We are warning the government once and for all, all hospitals will go on an indefinite strike within 24 hours of the bill being tabled in Parliament,” said Vinod Patro, president of the AIIMS Resident Doctors’ Association.

The bill is to be introduced this week.

AIIMS resident doctors decided tonight to go on mass casual leave on Thursday. Medical students will hold surprise protests across Delhi.

Around noon today, the medicos, who said they wanted to march to the residence of Sonia Gandhi, muscled their way past barricades at the protest site and raced down the road — with policemen on their heels — to Patel Chowk that leads to Janpath. When they began to push the barricades at Patel Chowk, policemen fired water cannons.

“We asked them to agitate peacefully, but they were hell bent on breaking the police cordon,” said ACP Arvind Kumar, in charge of the police and CRPF forces at the protest site, who had offered to try and arrange a meeting of student representatives with the Congress president.

As pushing at the barricades continued, the CRPF fired rubber bullets and then tear gas shells — the medicos had come prepared for this, and were seen using eye drops. About a hundred forced their way past the barricades in front of CPM MP Basudeb Acharya’s house.

They lay down blocking traffic at the busy junction for about half-an-hour. Twenty-two were detained, and were released around 5 pm.

Anti-reservation doctors had shut down medical colleges for 17 days in May, disrupting emergency services. They went back to work following a Supreme Court order on May 31.

The medicos, led as before by those from AIIMS, said they “are not worried about being in contempt of court for striking again”.

“The government has violated the court’s order. They want to table the bill in Parliament while the matter (of the reservation policy) is still sub judice,” said Ramesh Mehra, a student of the University College of Medical Sciences.

Adding edge to the protest is the revelation that unlike in jobs, the creamy layer of OBCs will not be excluded from reservation in education.

“Rajiv Gandhi had spoken in Parliament against reservation. Has she (Sonia) forgotten her own husband’s wisdom'” said Praful Das, of Maulana Azad Medical College, one of five colleges that participated in the protests. Large contingents of students from Delhi University, Indraprastha University and IIT Delhi had also joined in.

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