The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Friday, through a short order, directed the government to release
all doctors and paramedical staffers detained under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance against surety bonds worth Rs50,000 each as well as written assurances of good conduct.
The detained health practitioners will also have to furnish an undertaking about resuming duties in their respective hospitals as well as provide two personal sureties before their release, according to the court order.
On September 27, 16 health practitioners had been arrested in Peshawar.
Police had resorted to tear gas shelling and launched a baton charge in the premises of the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) in order to disperse doctors who had gathered there to protest against the Regional and District Health Authorities Act, 2019.
The high court today also directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to probe the alleged torture of doctors in Peshawar. The director general of the FIA was directed to submit a detailed inquiry report to the PHC deputy registrar within 14 days.
Earlier in the day, Additional Advocate General Qaiser Shah had told the court that on the day of the clashes, the district administration had imposed Section 144 within the hospital premises on the request of the Lady Reading Hospital administration.
The lawyers for the doctors, on the other hand, told the court that doctors and other staffers had only been gathering to devise their future course of action when the police cracked down.
PHC Chief Justice Waqar Ahmed Saith asked under which law the doctors had refused to provide treatment to patients. He remarked that the government's attitude towards the issue had also been inappropriate.
The PHC chief justice also reminded the AG to produce a record of the destruction of public property during the incident.
"You did a grave injustice by torturing educated people," he reprimanded the official.
Earlier on Thursday, a two-member bench of the high court, comprising PHC Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and Justice Abdul Shakoor, had taken up two petitions for the release of the arrested doctors.
The bench had adjourned the hearing after the provincial government and doctors could not reach any agreed terms for the release of the detained persons.
The bench had given some time to the government and the lawyers for the doctors to try to resolve the issue through negotiations.
Later in the day, KP Advocate General Shumail Ahmad Butt had informed the court that the government was ready for the conditional release of the detainees if they made a commitment to not to force health professionals, including doctors and paramedics, to observe strikes in public health facilities.
He had said that the detainees should give assurances that they will not protest during duty hours and would join their duties immediately.
Doctors across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been protesting for the past 10 days against the Regional and District Health Authorities Act, 2019 — which was passed by the provincial assembly on September 27 — which they describe as "nothing short of privatisation of government hospitals". According to the doctors, they had not been consulted by authorities in the drafting of the bill.
Following the clashes, the Grand Health Alliance (GHA) had announced that it would shut down outpatient clinics in hospitals all over the province for an indefinite period of time, and emergency wards as a next step.
What is the Regional and District Health Authorities Act, 2019?
Under the Regional and District Health Authorities Act, 2019, passed recently by the KP Assembly, health authorities will be established by the government at the regional and district levels.
The federal and provincial government will provide funds to each authority, which will report to a policy board chaired by the KP health minister.
The regional authorities will have the power to:
ensure that objectives set by Regional Health Authority (RHA) are achieved and oversee effective management and issue strategic directions to health facilities in the assigned region.
approve budget of RHA and allocate funds to health facilities
oversee health service delivery
implement government policies and directions
ensure that its programmes are effective and efficient
The law also dictates that the doctors that are already serving under existing contracts will continue to be treated as civil servants and will be entitled to pension and other such benefits. The regional health authority will have the authority to transfer doctors as per need in health facilities in their respective districts of domicile.
The law further says that the existing cadre will be treated as the "dying cadre" and will continue until the retirement of the last civil servant, after which the posts will be abolished and regional authorities will have the power to create positions and recruit as per regulations.