At last the state government of Andhra Pradesh in southern India has moved on the issue of lack of security for doctors.
The cabinet cleared Monday an ordinance making an assault on medical staff in government as well as private hospitals, a cognisable and non-bailable offence with a three-year jail term. In case of property damages, the cost will be recovered from the assailants.
The state had been shaken by two successive attacks on government hospitals in capital Hyderabad in the span of a fortnight. And in both the instances it was the legislators of a Muslim grouping who had instigated the attacks.
The government is reluctant to arrest them as the grouping, the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), is an ally of the ruling Congress.
The first attack took place on Dec.2 when a couple of doctors at a children's hospital were assaulted by Afsar Khan, member of the legislative assembly (MLA), and his men.
As the government dillydallied on arresting those involved, doctors' protest mounted. A score of children died, work was affected in various hospitals across the state and the matter went all the way to the state High Court before the stir was called off Thursday last.
But within 24 hours thereafter there was another assault, this time on the staff of a maternity hospital in the state capital. Those involved in the second attack were relatives of another MIM legislator Ahmed Pasha Qadri. The mob struck terror, making patients flee in panic. Again a statewide strike erupted.
The state chapter of the Indian Medical Association demanded the immediate promulgation of an ordinance that would render an assault on a doctor a non-bailable offence. It also demanded deployment of special police personnel at all teaching hospitals and immediate arrest of MIM MLAs Afsar Khan and Ahmed Pasha Quadri.
Still no arrests, but the ordinance announcement has materialized. The Andhra Pradesh Government Doctors' Association (APGDA) quickly responded, calling off their strike, but the junior doctors remained unyielding on their demand for the arrest of the two MLAs.
They also want Special Protection Force personnel posted to guard all government hospitals. Junior doctors work as an extended arm of the government doctors and mainly take care of out-patients.
But the High Court took a serious view of the agitation and expressed its "anguish and displeasure" at the attitude of the agitating doctors. It also asked the Government to furnish details of alternative arrangements being contemplated to tackle the emerging medical crisis.