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Supreme Court directs admission of Doctor to Post Graduation Course: Last year cannot join due to denial of study leave for rendering services in Covid-19

The SC on July 15, 2021 {DR. ROHIT KUMAR VS. SECRETARY OFFICE OF LT. GOVERNOR OF DELHI & ORS.} held that the policy decision not to grant Study Leave to doctors for a certain length of time, in apprehension of a rise in COVID-19 cases, to ensure the availability of as many doctors, as possible for duty, is neither arbitrary, nor discriminatory, nor violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. 

It was held by the SC Bench, comprising of Justice Indira Banerjee & Justice V. Ramasubramanian, that the Court cannot be oblivious to the legitimate expectation of COVID-19 warriors like the Appellant to fair treatment, in conformity with the Service Rules by which they are governed, to enable them to pursue higher education and enhance their educational qualifications. It was held needless to mention that doctors with higher qualifications and special knowledge in specific areas would be an asset to the medical fraternity, as also to the society. 

It was held that the Appellant could not join the Post Graduate Course for no fault of his own, as his services were required in public interest, for the cause of humanity, to save lives. It was held that the admission to the Post Graduate Course was closed on 31st January, 2021 and classes commenced soon thereafter. It was further held that the Appellant continued to render service to the Government of NCT of Delhi, treating patients at the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital. It was observed by the SC that the COVID-19 situation in Delhi is under control, the Government of NCT of Delhi should, as a model employer, make an endeavour to see that the Appellant is not deprived of the fruits of his success in the INICET 2020 and is able to pursue post graduate studies.

It was held that the policy decision taken on 20th October, 2020, not to grant further Study Leave to doctors working in hospitals under the Government of NCT of Delhi in apprehension of rise in COVID cases, is obviously a temporary one. It was held that the policy cannot continue indefinitely irrespective of changes in circumstances. It was held that the policy has necessarily to be reviewed from time to time and relaxed and/or modified once there is decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases in the NCT of Delhi.

In the present case before the SC, the Appellant had filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court challenging the action of the Respondent No. 1 in not granting Study Leave to the Appellant to enable him to join the post graduate course at PGI, Chandigarh. The said writ petition was dismissed by a Single Bench of the High Court, and an appeal therefrom, filed by the Appellant, has been dismissed by the Division Bench of the High Court, by the judgment and order impugned in the present appeal before the SC.

The SC held that having regard to the circumstances in which the Appellant has been declined Study Leave, it cannot be said that the Respondent Nos. 1 and 2 have acted beyond the parameters of law. It was held nevertheless, the Appellant has suffered injustice, because of the denial of Study Leave, in that he has been deprived of the opportunity to pursue higher studies, which many other doctors have availed. It was held that it would be unfair to deny the Appellant the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his efforts even now, when the COVID-19 situation has improved and is in control, only because the Respondents have not committed “apparent breach of rules and regulations” in refusing the Appellant Study Leave. It was held that the Court cannot fold its arms and remain a mute spectator to the plight of the Appellant. After all, “nothing rankles the heart more than a brooding sense of injustice”.

It was held that the Appellant, who could not join the post graduate course, due to the denial of Study Leave by the Government pursuant to a legitimate policy decision and in response to the call of duty, cannot now be denied relief on the hyper technical ground that the Respondent Nos. 1 and 2 had not breached any rules or regulations. It was held that it would be a travesty of justice to deny relief to the Appellant, when the Appellant had to make a personal sacrifice in the larger public interest, to serve the cause of humanity. 

It was held that since the seat in the Post Graduate Course in PGI Chandigarh which remained unfilled due to the inability of the Appellant to join has been carried over to the July 2021 session which is yet to commence, and re-advertised, the Court deems it appropriate to direct the PGI, Chandigarh, being the Respondent No. 3 to admit the Appellant to the post graduate course scheduled to commence in July 2021, on the basis of INICET 2020, which he has successfully cleared. It was directed that the Respondent No. 1 shall re-consider the application of the Appellant for Study Leave, taking into consideration the decline in COVID-19 cases in NCT of Delhi, and take a reasonable decision in favour of the Appellant, and unless there is a substantial rise in COVID-19 cases, the leave application of the Appellant shall not be declined.

These directions were being passed in exercise of the power under Article 142 of the Constitution of India, in the facts and circumstances of this case by the SC. The appeal was, disposed of, accordingly by the SC. Consequently, the impugned judgment and order of the Division Bench of the High Court, and judgment and order of the Single Bench of the High Court dated 02.02.2021 were set aside by the SC. 

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