The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the government cannot use financial hardship to avoid paying doctors’ salaries or arrears.
The State’s credo towards its doctors should be “no work should go unpaid,” not “no work, no pay,” according to a judgement by Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Hrishikesh Roy.
The case concerned North Delhi Municipal Corporation’s refusal to pay AYUSH doctors’ salary arrears after their superannuation age was raised from 60 to 65 years.
“These doctors have provided care to countless patients without compensation or benefits. Their services are freely used by the employer in government establishments… “The State cannot be allowed to claim financial burden in order to deny salary to legally serving doctors,” wrote the verdict’s author, Justice Roy.
Any discrimination between AYUSH doctors and their allopathic counterparts would be violative of the former’s fundamental rights to equality and dignity.
The remarks came after the Corporation argued that the enhancement in service age was applicable to only allopathic medicine practitioners under the Central Health Scheme (CHS) and not doctors who treat with alternative medicine like Ayurveda.
But the Supreme Court disagreed. “The only difference is that AYUSH doctors are using indigenous systems of medicine like Ayurveda, Unani, etc, and CHS doctors are using allopathy for tending to their patients,” Justice Roy observed.
The mode of treatment by itself under the prevalent scheme of things does not qualify as an intelligible differentia, the court noted.
Justice Roy said distinguishing doctors because of their fields of medicine amounted to “unreasonable classification and discrimination”.
The court also highlighted an order of AYUSH Ministry of November 2017 which had extended the age of superannuation to 65 years.
“We have no hesitation in holding that the respondent — doctors [AYUSH doctors] are entitled to their full salary arrears and the same is ordered to be disbursed, within eight weeks from today. Belated payment beyond the stipulated period will carry interest, at the rate of 6% from the date of this order until the date of payment,” the court ordered.