The LDF government in Kerala on Wednesday approved an ordinance that provides for stringent punishment, including imprisonment of up to seven years and a maximum fine of Rs 5 lakh for those found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm to doctors, medical students, and others working in the health services sector in the state.
The decision, taken in a cabinet meeting chaired by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, came in the wake of the brutal killing of Dr Vandana Das by a patient at a taluk hospital in Kollam district of the state last week.
Under the Kerala Healthcare Service Workers and Healthcare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Amendment Ordinance, anyone found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm to any healthcare worker or professional would be punished with imprisonment ranging from one year to seven years and a fine of Rs one lakh to Rs 5 lakh, a government statement said.
The ordinance also provides that anyone who commits or attempts to commit or incites or inspires an act of violence against healthcare workers or those working in healthcare institutions shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than 6 months and up to 5 years and with a fine between Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh, it said.
Before the amendment, under the Kerala Healthcare Service Workers and Healthcare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act of 2012, any act of violence against a healthcare service person or damage to property of a medical institution carried a punishment of a maximum three years imprisonment and a fine upto Rs 50,000.
Besides the enhancement of punishment, the ordinance states that the trials in cases lodged under the Act have to be completed in a timely manner, and that special courts will be designated in each district to ensure speedy adjudication, the statement said.
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The ordinance also states that cases registered under the Act have to be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of Inspector and the probe has to be completed within 60 days of registration of the FIR, it said.
Furthermore, the ordinance extends the protection under the Act to paramedical students, security guards, managerial staff, ambulance drivers, helpers who are posted and working in health care institutions. Also, the health workers who would be notified in the official government gazette from time to time, it said.
Earlier, the protection under the Act was only available to registered and provisionally registered medical practitioners, registered nurses, medical students, nursing students and paramedical staff working in healthcare institutions.
The ordinance will now be sent for approval to the Kerala Governor.
The government, in its statement, said that following the killing of Dr Das at the Kottarakkara taluk hospital last week by a patient, a high-level meeting was convened and a decision was taken to amend the 2012 Act and issue an ordinance.
In the meeting, it was assessed that those committing violence against health workers were not getting the punishment they deserve and based on the assessment, Vijayan ordered that the Act be amended, the statement said.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, G Sandeep, a teacher by profession, accused of killing Dr Das was sent to five days custody of the Crime Branch wing of the Kerala Police by a magisterial court in Kottarakkara.
Dr Das, a native of Kaduthuruthy area of Kottayam district and the only child of her parents, was a house surgeon at Azeezia Medical College Hospital and was working at the Kottarakkara taluk hospital as part of her training.
Sandeep, who was brought there by the police for medical treatment during the wee hours of April 10, went on a sudden attacking spree using a pair of surgical scissors kept in the room where his leg injury was being dressed.
He initially attacked the police officers and a private person who had accompanied him to the hospital and then turned on the young doctor who could not escape to safety. She was stabbed 11 times and later succumbed to her injuries in a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram where she was rushed following the attack.
In the wake of the attack, protests erupted in various hospitals across the state, with healthcare professionals, medical interns, students and house surgeons taking to the streets and observing a strike for two days.
Even the Kerala High Court took up the issue and slammed the state government and the police for failing to protect the doctor. It termed the killing an outcome of "systemic failure" and directed the police to come out with fresh protocols for ensuring the safety of those working in the healthcare and health science education fields.
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