India Govt threatens to sack striking doctors
INDIA: India's government threatened to fire hundreds of striking
doctors opposed to an affirmative action plan for low-caste Hindus, and
said army, railway and retired doctors would be brought in to prop up
crippled medical services.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, warned doctors to end their strike,
saying patients were "at the mercy of God."
Alongside the striking doctors, tens of thousands of young people -
most of them medical students, but supported by software programmers,
engineers, bankers and others - have waged protests across India for
more than two weeks against the plan to increase places reserved for
low-caste Hindus and ethnic minorities in jobs and colleges.
On Tuesday, doctors and medical students blocked traffic in a handful
of cities across India. In the western city of Ahmadabad, protesters
briefly scuffled with police, while in northern Chandigarh, doctors
squatted on railroad tracks before being forcibly removed.
Dozens of doctors and students have also gone on hunger strikes.
Federal Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said the government would
begin hiring new doctors after the protesting doctors and medical
students defied calls by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the court to
end the two-week strike.
"We have been issuing deadlines for two weeks ... their attitude is
unreasonable. If they don't join work, their services will be
terminated," Ramadoss told reporters.
He said retired doctors, as well as those from the army and railways,
would step in to ease shortages at hospitals and clinics, and those on
strike would not be paid while they stayed away from work.
"Doctors have a right to expression, but not during duty hours,"
Ramadoss said after a meeting with the prime minister.
"Services have to be maintained, come what may," he quoted Singh as
saying at the meeting.
The government's plan would increase quotas for low-caste students in
state-funded medical, engineering and other professional colleges to
49.5 percent from 22.5 percent.
The plan has ignited an angry nationwide debate about affirmative
Affirmative action backers say the policy must be expanded to undo
centuries of oppression and continuing discrimination in much of India.
Hinduism divides people into various castes, based on birth, and
although the system has been officially outlawed, caste-based
discrimination remains common.
Critics say the lower castes should be strengthened through
compulsory education rather than an increase in the number of study and
work opportunities, because many jobs and school spots reserved for the
low castes remain empty.
The strike has crippled health services at government hospitals in
several cities. Senior doctors have been running emergency services in
the hospitals, but day-to-day services have been severely hampered.
Several poor patients are being forced to go to expensive private
hospitals. New Delhi, Wednesday, AP