HC frees doctor from service bond

Calcutta: The high court on Monday directed the state government to release by Wednesday the certificates and testimonials of a doctor who studied for a postgraduate diploma in Bengal and opted out of the stipulated five years of service by paying Rs 20 lakh in accordance with the terms of his bond.

Rahul Bansal, who is from Bilaspur in Madhya Pradesh, has a two-year postgraduate diploma in psychiatry from the West Bengal Health University. A bond he had signed during his admission to the Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education and Research at SSKM Hospital in 2015 mentions that he would work in Bengal for five years after completing the course or pay Rs 20 lakh.

The state government had kept his testimonials as surety.

"The petitioner (Bansal), after collecting an e-copy of the court order, will meet (officer) A.K. Das at the Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education and Research, SSKM, and the said officer will have to hand him his certificate and testimonials by Wednesday," the division bench of Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Shampa Sarkar said.

"The petitioner will have the liberty to appear before this division bench at 10.30am on Thursday if the authorities decline to hand him over the papers even after the order."

The verdict could be treated as a precedent while adjudicating on petitions filed by at least 42 other doctors in Bengal and other states, all of them seeking to exit the period of service by paying the amount of money specified in their bonds.

The division bench turned down a plea by Tapan Mukherjee, the counsel representing the state, to stay the operation of the order by at least a week.

Bansal, who was present in court when the order was pronounced, told Metro: "I am happy at having got justice from the court, and the order will help me pursue further medical studies."

He has an MBBS degree from a medical college in his home state.

Bengal introduced the bond for mandatory service some years ago to stem the exodus of medical specialists from the state. State health care is currently short of at least 4,000 doctors and some hospitals have had to scale down operations.

An official of the health department said the idea of getting postgraduate students to sign a bond had backfired. "It is discouraging the better students from other states from studying here. "Half the diploma seats are open to students from other states, but there aren't many takers."

Bansal had moved court on May 21, mentioning in his writ petition that he was "stuck" in Bengal since August 2017 because the state government wouldn't hand him his certificates and testimonials.

The petition, filed in the court of Justice Shivkant Prasad, pleaded for an order to the West Bengal Health University to accept the Rs 20 lakh he was ready to pay for an exit from the terms of his admission.

The government accepted the amount, but did not give Bansal his papers. The state instead appealed before the division bench for delayed operation of the order so that it could file a special leave petition in the Supreme Court, Bansal's lawyer said.

During the previous hearing on June 13, Justice Datta had said of Bengal's refusal to release Bansal: "How can the state do this?"

The government counsel argued that the state spends a "huge amount" on training a postgraduate doctor.

"How much does the government have to spend?" Justice Datta asked.

"Rs 9.6 lakh in two years," Mukherjee replied.

"Why is the government then holding on to the certificates after getting Rs 20 lakh?" the judge said.


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