The Gauhati High Court has admitted a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a Guwahati-based doctor seeking the court’s intervention in checking the menace of fake doctors and quacks in Assam.
The PIL, filed by Dr Abhijit Neog who has exposed 26 fake doctors since 2016, has prayed for the “issuance of a writ in the nature of mandamus” to the respondents to “establish a proper mechanism to ascertain” the qualifications of persons practising modern medicine in Assam and also identify persons practising modern medicine “without” the requisite qualification.
The PIL stated that the petitioner was left with “no other option” but to move the high court seeking after there was “no concrete action” on his representations to the authorities, requesting the setting up of a proper mechanism “to identify and weed out” the quacks and ensure they are not allowed to practise modern medicine as they pose a threat to public safety.
Admitting the PIL on May 12, a division bench comprising Gauhati High Court Chief Justice Sandeep Mehta and Justice Mitali Thakuria issued notices, returnable within three weeks to the respondents.
The respondents included the Union health and family welfare ministry, the Union Ayush ministry and the National Medical Commission, Assam chief secretary, the state health department, the director of medical education, the medical and education research department and the Assam Council of Medical Registration.
The PIL’s objective is to draw the attention of the court towards the serious risk posed to the people of the state by a large number of fraudulent persons practising as doctors without the requisite/recognised qualifications and without being registered under the Assam Medical Council/ Indian Medical Registry or the State and Central Register of NCISM (National Council of Indian System of Medicine) as required under Section 34 of the NCISM Act, 2020.
The PIL points out that the fake doctors/pretenders are of two kinds — those who do not have any qualification whatsoever and who “assume the identity of a genuine” registered medical practitioner.
The second category includes those who “obtain” degrees in the courses such as the “so-called alternative system of medicine” from unrecognised institutions and thereafter “illegally” practise modern medicine.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) had recognised Neog’s “sustained efforts” in exposing “fake” doctors by felicitating him with the IMA’s National President’s Appreciation Award during its annual conference held at Allahabad on December 27, 2022.
Neog, who did his MBBS from Assam Medical College, is also the principal assessor of the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals (NABH) and an assessor for the National Quality Assurance Standards (NQAS) of the National Health Mission of the Government of India.
Neog has stated in the PIL that even though he has been able to identify a number of quacks, it is necessary to establish a proper mechanism to ensure no person other than a registered medical practitioner is allowed to practise in Assam.
The menace of fake doctors posing a serious threat to public safety is not limited to Assam, the PIL states, adding fake doctors are practising medicine “all over” the country.
The PIL cites the unprecedented growth of fake doctors in Odisha, which led to a writ petition being filed by the Odisha State Legal Services Authority before the Orissa High Court.
The Orissa High Court, on December 21, 2022, directed the state additional chief secretary in the health and family welfare department to come up with a “comprehensive plan” under which a survey will be undertaken to ascertain every allopathic doctor practising in that state possesses proper and relevant qualifications.
Neog’s PIL also moots a similar survey in Assam to call out fake doctors.
The PIL lists a few steps to eradicate the threat posed by fake doctors, including:
■ Formation of an anti-quackery unit at the district level having as its members police officers (with power to arrest/ detain such individuals), state health department personnel and also nominated public representatives who are adequately qualified.
■ A dedicated and well-publicised helpline accessible to all so people can report doubtful persons masquerading as doctors.
■ Creation of an online database of doctors practising in Assam accessible to the public.
■ Sensitisation and training of law enforcement personnel to understand the legal implications of any such information received and to analyse the same through the data available.
The PIL says the court could also direct the respondents to “conduct a survey” of all allopathic doctors in the state and assess if they “possess” the necessary qualifications and/or “create an online database of doctors practising within the state which is accessible to the public at large.
The court could also “direct” the respondents to identify persons practising modern medicine illegally in Assam and “initiate appropriate” legal proceedings against them, and/or pass any other “appropriate” order or direction the court “deems fit and proper”.