Yesterday, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a draft Bill to address incidences of violence against healthcare professionals and damage to the property of clinical establishments. Public comments on the draft Bill are invited till the end of September. In this context, we discuss key provisions of the draft Bill below.
What does the draft Bill seek to do?
The draft Bill prohibits any acts of violence committed against healthcare service personnel including doctors, nurses, para medical workers, medical students, and ambulance drivers, among others. It also prohibits any damage caused to hospitals, clinics, and ambulances.
Under the draft Bill, violence means any act which may cause: (i) harm, injury or danger to the life of a healthcare service personnel, while discharging their duty, (ii) obstruction or hindrance to healthcare service personnel, while discharging their duty, and (ii) loss or damage to any property or documents in a clinical establishment.
What are the penalties for committing such acts of violence?
Currently, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides for penalties for any harm caused to an individual or any damage caused to property. Further, the Code prescribes penalties for causing grievous hurt i.e., permanent damage to another individual. The draft Bill additionally specifies penalties for similar offences caused to healthcare professionals and clinical establishments.
Under the draft Bill, any person who commits violence, or abets such violence may be punished with imprisonment between six months to five years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees. However, if any person causes grievous hurt to a healthcare service professional, he will be imprisoned for a period between three years to ten years, along with a fine between two lakh rupees and Rs 10 lakh. Note that, currently under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, an individual who commits grievous hurt is punishable with imprisonment of up to seven years, along with a fine.
In addition to the punishment for offences committed under the draft Bill, the convicted person will also be liable to pay compensation to the affected parties. This includes: (i) payment of twice the amount of the market value of the damaged property, (ii) one lakh rupees for causing hurt to healthcare service personnel, and (iii) five lakh rupees for causing grievous hurt to healthcare service personnel. In case of non-payment of compensation, the amount may be recovered under the Revenue Recovery Act, 1890. The Act provides for recovering certain public arrears by attaching the property of an individual.
How will these cases of violence be investigated?
All offences under the draft Bill will be cognizable (i.e., a police officer can arrest without a warrant) and non-bailable. An aggrieved healthcare service professional can write a request to the person-in-charge of the clinical establishment to inform the police of an offence committed under the draft Bill. Further, any case registered under this Bill will be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
This Bill is currently in the draft stage and has been released for comments by stakeholders and experts in the field. The draft will be revised to incorporate such suggestions. Note that, comments can be emailed to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare at us-ms-mohfwnic.in by the end of September.
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.