Monday, November 28, 2022

On the NIDA and state govt impasse

The medical profession is a noble profession, or so we are told. It is still a noble profession as we would all like to believe. To be a doctor is to inspire awe and respect in terms of knowledge, in terms of civilized conduct and the competency with specialized skills with which doctors would treat diseases and save human lives from preventable untimely mortality due to treatable medical conditions. The medical profession is considered amongst the highest of the calling of professions in terms of its nobility and service. To offer oneself in the hands of a fellow human, to allow them to explore our most private bodies and to allow them to put us to a near death situation to cut open and fix ailments and diseases certainly is no small act except for to revere in awe and deep admiration. It is no wonder, doctors are often considered next to God or even gods.
The impasse between Nagaland In-Service Doctors’ Association (NIDA) and the Govt. of Nagaland is unfortunate and uncalled for. It is even a misfortune for the many poor who are not rich enough to afford health care outside of the Govt. hospitals and health care delivery system. The public has been quietly observing even as many needy patients continue to suffer in silence due to the needless posture of defiance from NIDA in the public domain. Services that involve human life such as health service should not hold the health and lives of the public to ransom.
The demands of NIDA must be viewed through the prism of legitimacy. Firstly, it must be understood that the service policy matters are a prerogative of each State govt. and that the policies of one state govt. are not under compulsion or liable to be applied to another State. Each state decides its own policies according to its needs and its resources, and its circumstances. Thus, in the case of Nagaland, the Nagaland Retirement from Public Employment (Second Amendment) Act, 2009 (Act No 7 of 2009) came into being, to ensure that there is employment opportunity for the young generations. In order to prevent the rampant age manipulations by the then serving incumbents, a length of service criteria was prudently inserted, unlike other states. Secondly, the legitimacy of the demand and its legal validity must be considered. The present service rule for retirement has been fought viciously in the Court of Law and therefore hard earned. To violate the retirement act would be contempt of the Court. To tamper and manipulate it by extension of age criteria to 62 and removal of 35 years length of service would invite all other departments to demand for the same and which therefore should never be allowed.
Through the order No. HFW-5/A/1/2007 III /602 Dt. 15th July 2022, the Govt. has already granted special provision circumventing and without affecting the existing service rule for those sincere and committed doctors to serve the public up to sixty-two years in clinical capacity. If the concern of the govt. doctors is genuinely for public service due to shortage of manpower and their services are truly required, then there should be no issue for being re-employed through the govt. provision. In the past, in one instance NIDA had claimed that many retired doctors are being immediately engaged by private hospitals while Govt. hospitals are deprived of utilizing their expertise and experience due to early retirement and therefore ought to be retained for public service. In another instance, NIDA claimed that senior doctors by the time of retirement are not clinically competent and therefore ought to be retained in administrative positions. Such absolutely contradicting claims to hoodwink the govt. and the public demonstrates that senior doctors who are not willing to serve the public but stay in office to manipulate and misuse their authority for personal gains are the ones pushing for a strike. If there is so much of a shortage of govt. doctors, then doctors should be relinquished from all administrative posts in the Directorate, District Hospitals and District CMO offices and be deployed in the clinical establishments, and allow the administrative posts to be taken over by administrative officers from the State Civil Services. In all other states in the country, except Nagaland, head of departments be it medical are headed by IAS officers, mostly who are young having a great future are found to be less corrupted. Also, the govt. working hours for doctors should be strictly adhered to so that more working hours can be extracted from the existing doctors within the official time frame, which otherwise are utilized by the serving doctors for selfish gains in private practices. It is an undisputed observation that many govt. in-service doctors in Kohima and Dimapur hospitals and health centers report late to the hospitals and disappear after 1 pm causing much inconvenience to patients from distant places, only to be found heavily engaged in private practices.
With the public being made to suffer because of the strike called by NIDA, the irresponsible and inhumane conduct of disrupting health care shall be viewed as a direct affront on the public. Many patients who otherwise would be treated in the govt. hospital OPDs have been forced to attend private hospitals, thus spending huge amount of financial resources. Therefore, in the interest of the public who are being denied the regular health care across the state, it is requested that NIDA seeks alternative and legitimate means to address their grievances whatsoever through the process of law so as not to disrupt public health services. However, should NIDA continue to hold the public to ransom, the public may be forced to file Public Interest Litigations (PIL) for damage compensation for loss of wealth by being denied health care in govt. hospitals, and invite the legal courts to intervene in the interest of public, against NIDA’s disruption of essential public services.
It behoves a supposedly respectable organization such as NIDA to conduct itself honorably, reasonably and humanely since its profession is about a “Divine Mission” to serve humanity, and not behave like other Social and NGOs. If the NIDA has a legitimate cause for grievance by being denied justice, then they should take the matter to the courts of Law and settle the deprivation that they claim so. However, if the demands are illegitimate, then the strike is illegal and the Govt. must take strict legal action against NIDA for disruption of essential public health services and making the poor and hapless innocent public to suffer. Govt. must not allow its employees to hold essential public services hostage by disrupting essential services to make ransom-like demands. This would be a bad precedent. Doctors who do not want to serve the public can resign or retire without re-employment and those who wish to serve the public can take the offer of re-employment where their pay is protected. It is well known that there is a very senior retired doctor who had even served in the capacity of Principal Director, who continues to give his services in Govt. hospitals without being paid for his services. Such is the heart of a true doctor and NIDA must learn lessons from the humble senior of the fraternity. I wish NIDA were fighting for medical facilities and services in the govt. hospitals of the remote districts, such as Noklak, Tuensang, Mon, Kiphire, Shamator, Longleng, where medical services and facilities are extremely limited and deprived of even in various emergency cases.
I therefore urge NIDA to resume the public health service in the interest of public and settle its disputes in the courts of Law and not in public domain by disruption of essential public services, so that no public is made to suffer further. It is hoped that better sense will prevail amongst the members of NIDA, and in the true sense of service, live and demonstrate the true meaning of serving humanity rather than personal interests at the cost of the public.
Robert N. Solo
Kohima Village, Kohima, Nagaland

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