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.
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.