The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Protesters earn court wrath

New Delhi, May 30: The Supreme Court today expressed displeasure over medical students ignoring its appeal to call off their strike, suggesting that contempt action could be initiated against them.

The students were stumped by the observation. Across colleges here, they were huddled in general body meetings and consultations with lawyers.

The court said the strike, continuing for 19 days, against the government’s decision to introduce a 27 per cent quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) had left “patients at the mercy of God”.

It added that it had given “clear indication” yesterday that the issue of reservation was being examined by it. “(Still) We are told that they (students) are continuing with the strike. If they are overreaching our orders, they are in for a surprise. It can amount to contempt.”

The court pointed out that it had specifically asked the students to call off their strike in the larger public interest. “Surprisingly, the contrary is happening. Ultimately, people waiting to get treated at hospitals are being affected,” it said.

At this stage it is not concerned about government policy, but about the plight of the people, the court added.

The vacation bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and L.S. Panta asked the government to submit a report by tomorrow morning on what it had done to dispel the fear in students’ minds about the quota.

It asked additional solicitor-general Gopal Subramanian to file a memorandum giving details about the latest position on the strike.

Yesterday, the court had questioned the basis on which the government had announced the quota and the criteria for determining OBCs.

Legal experts said the court itself was not certain whether it would actually initiate contempt proceedings if the students refused to call off their strike. Had it been sure, it would have used the term “shall” and not “can”.

The students are not a party to the case. Therefore, initiating contempt proceedings against them will not fit into established practice. Moreover, it will be impossible to enforce the order against individual strikers. The students are only loosely organised under Youth for Equality.

The court can, however, direct the governments to take action like invoking the Essential Services Maintenance Act or instruct the medicos to return to work or face suspension, dismissal, etc.

The government appeared to be hardening its stand, too. It said army doctors would be called from tomorrow to restore services in government hospitals.

After a meeting with the Prime Minister, health minister A. Ramadoss said: “We are going to maintain services in the hospitals come what may. We will be calling doctors from the army tomorrow and appoint new doctors.” He ruled out invoking Esma.

Even basic health services in the capital are likely to be hit tomorrow with the Delhi Medical Association calling a shutdown.

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