Doctors’ stir over NEET PG courses picks pace after police clash

Govt turns blind eye to frontline corona warriors’ plight

Politics

December 29, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Doctors’ stir over NEET PG courses picks pace after police clash

Doctors protesting against the delay of NEET PG counselling

For over a month now, thousands of young, resident doctors, led by the Federation of Resident Doctors Associations (FORDA), have been protesting for the government to schedule the NEET PG counselling which has been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. Doctors say that the hospitals are severely understaffed and have been demanding that final dates for counselling, to allow them to move forward with their education and careers, be given to them. However, their demands so far have fallen on deaf ears and on Monday evening, hundreds of resident doctors were detained by Delhi police, allegedly with use of violent force, forcing senior doctors from other associations across the country to join in support.

Striking resident doctors decide to continue their month-long agitation, rejecting an appeal by Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, who met with a delegation of representatives of the doctors on Tuesday and urged them to call off the stir, in view of  rapidly rising Covid-19 cases in the country.

However, the Federation of Resident Doctors Association (FORDA) rejected the call as the minister could not guarantee the commencement of counselling, citing that the case was pending hearing in the Supreme Court. Resident doctors of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) have called of their one-day strike post meeting of Mandaviya with FORDA president, Dr Manish.

The Delhi police used a harsh approach while detaining hundreds of protesting doctors, the ongoing stir by doctors, so far limited to young, resident doctors, members of Federation of Resident Doctors Associations (FORDA), has spread with several other organisations joining in. Notably FAIMA, or Federation of All India Medical Association have joined in the strike along with doctors of Hindu Rao and Kasturba hospitals, to express support to FORDA.

On Tuesday, as the doctors tried to march from Safdarjung Hospital in South Delhi to the Supreme Court, the Delhi police again blocked them and arrested leaders of the protest, who were later taken to the Rajinder Nagar Police Station.

The doctors say they have been forced to descend on the streets after failing to evoke any response from the government, notably the union health ministry, for months on the issue of restarting the process for National Eligibility Entrance Test (Postgraduate) or NEET PG. The doctors say that they launched their protest on November 29 with a single demand that the government finalise the dates for NEETPG counselling, which would allow their education to resume, after over 18 months of break due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The NEET PG exam is generally scheduled in the month of January but due to the pandemic, the exam was postponed and was conducted on September 12, 2021. Post the examination the doctors choose their specialisation and college depending on their marks. This entire process for higher education for doctors was completed by February in the pre-Covid-19 era. However, due to a severe shortage of doctors due to the pandemic, the Supreme Court had intervened and postponed the counselling process for a few months.

However, since then, even though life seems to have returned back to normalcy for almost everyone else, there has been no change in the situation of doctors and their careers and education have remained static since then.

It was to attract attention of the government to their plight that the members of FORDA began their protest on November 29, 2021, suspending their duties. The government however didn’t listen to the demands of the doctors and the strike continued. It was only on December 6, over a week after the strike had begun that the union health minister, Mansukh Mandaviya met with FORDA representatives and assured them that the necessary steps would be taken to address their grievance and the process for counselling will be finalised. However, the doctors say that even four weeks later, the government has not initiated any action to address their demands.

It was after this that they were forced to organise a massive street protest on Monday, which led to clashes with the Delhi police, whom the doctors accuse of using a heavy hand and violence before detaining the peacefully protesting doctors. This has led to others join the protest in support.

“More than 5000 resident doctors are currently protesting and more are joining from across the country. This delay is because of the new reservation policy, the government decided to increase the reservation seats of NEET UG and NEET PG for both medical and dental colleges due to which only 35 pc seats are left for the unreserved category,” Dr Shubham Aggarwal tells Media India Group.

“The doctors have talked to FORDA, FAIMA (Federation of All India Medical Association) and IMA (Indian Medical Association), but as these are medical associations, not government bodies they aren’t able to do much,” Aggarwal adds.

The resident doctors say they have been let down repeatedly by the health ministry which seems to have ignored their demands and plight, despite their immense contribution in battling the Covid-19 pandemic and their sacrifices made, notably during the deadly second wave that had gripped the country earlier this year.

“In November we boycotted OPD (Out Patient Department) and after problems faced by the authorities. Dr Mansukh Mandaviya met with us and assured that our problems will be taken care of. However, he did not give this to us in writing,” Dr Jubin tells Media India Group.

“After that, the protest was again held on December 17, but we did not suspend the treatment for serious patients as we don’t mean any harm to them. Since then the protest has been going on peacefully. Yesterday, we decided to march towards Supreme Court. It was a peaceful march we had no intention of blocking roads or damaging any property or any kind of violence. But the police came suddenly and started beating the protesters and arrested a few of our companions,” Jubin adds.

In addition to the woes of the doctors, the new batch for 2021 hasn’t been yet admitted to the various medical institutions. Only existing batches have been doing their studies and conducting their duties. “The exams for the third year students are near and after that only we, the second  year students, will be left for looking after the patients. The government isn’t doing anything for us. We aren’t demanding any new law or provisions. We are just demanding our educational rights and for that too we are being beaten up,” says Jubin.

“Supreme Court has given us the date for January 6, 2022, we hope that the court fast tracks the counselling process after that or on January 6, the court gives us assurance that the process will start from that day. This will at least help us understand our position,” says Jubin.

Late on Tuesday, Mandaviya said he would meet with the representatives of FORDA and FAIMA. The doctors are demanding an apology from Delhi Police for their actions against the doctors.

With the looming threat of Omicron, the government must resolve the issue with doctors. Ensuring their safety and their needs are met as it is a necessity for the country. With reports of the new variant being more infectious than the Delta variant is alarming news for the health system, the government and the society need the doctors at their best in order to tackle the potential third wave that could envelope India in the matter of a few days.

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