Under the law, those who commit assault against doctors and other medical workers could face a prison sentence of between three and ten years and fined up to Rs 10 lakh. In addition, healthcare workers can avail compensation of up to Rs 5 lakh if they are the victim of violence whilst on duty.
“The Central law, a long-standing demand of the medical fraternity, which seeks to prohibit violence against doctors and other healthcare service personnel and damage to property of clinical establishments has been finalised,” said Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. “We will soon put it in public domain for comments and feedback.” The law was drafted by a subcommittee which included representatives of major medical bodies, among them the All India Institute of Medical Sciences’ Resident Doctors Association; the Bureau of Police Research and Development; the Indian Medical Association (IMA); and the Medical Council of India (MCI).
Violence against doctors is prevalent in India; as described by one study, “social media portrays almost one incidence of violence against doctors every couple of days.” The consequence, it states, is that “almost every doctor is worried about violence at his/her workplace, and very few doctors are trained to avoid or deal with such situations.” Indeed, as many 75 percent of doctors in India having been the victim of violence at work according to the IMA. This can take the form of “telephonic threats, intimidation, verbal abuse, physical but noninjurious assault, physical assault causing simple or grievous injury, murder, vandalism, and arson”, leaving the victims at risk of long-lasting physical and psychological harm.
Meanwhile, the infrastructure to tackle the issue is lacking. “[The] majority of the hospitals in India do not have good grievance addressal [systems] in place,” said one piece of research. “[The] legal procedure in India also takes [an] inordinately long time.”
Such is the scope of the issue that it has led to doctors going on strike to demand measures to support their safety, as was seen in West Bengal earlier this year after a junior doctor was assaulted in Kolkata. That agitation quickly spilled over into a national protest called by the IMA. One hopes that the law proposed by the Centre will ameliorate doctors’ concerns and facilitate a safer working environment. The alternative is continued hostility towards them – and their taking to the streets in protest as a consequence.