Mumbai: Only private doctors on Covid-19 duty covered by govt insurance, says HC

In a significant ruling, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday said that only those private doctors, who were requisitioned either by the state or the central government for serving Covid-19 patients, would be eligible for the Rs 50 lakh health cover announced by the Union health ministry under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP).

A bench of Justices Shahrukh Kathawalla and Riyaz Chagla noted that the PMGKP scheme clearly states that for a private healthcare provider to be covered under the health cover, s/he must be drafted or requisitioned by the state/centre for COVID-19-related responsibilities, the order stated.

The judges, accordingly, dismissed the plea filed by one Kiran Surgade, a widow of Navi Mumbai-based Ayurvedic doctor Bhaskar Surgade's plea seeking insurance benefit of the health cover.

According to Surgade, her husband died in June due to the deadly Covid-19 virus. She said that her husband got infected to the deadly virus while treating patients including those infected by the virus.

The New India Assurance Company Limited (NIACL), which was made as a respondent to the plea by Kiran, denied granting any insurance benefits claiming that her husband was a private practitioner and not a government employee and that his services weren't drafted or requisitioned by the government.

At this, Kiran argued that her husband had initially shut his clinic and opened only after the civic chief of Navi Mumbai issued a notice to him, ordering him to open his clinic.

"In the notice issued in March, an explanation was sought from the private doctors as to why their hospitals and dispensaries are kept closed. Pursuant to the said notice, my husband had to open his clinic and treat patients including those infected by the Covid-19 virus. He thus consequently himself got infected by the virus and died in June," Kiran had argued.

However, the judges trashed her contention, saying, "She would be necessarily required to prove that her husband's services were in fact requisitioned or drafted in relation to COVID-19 duties by the state or the centre to seek application of the Scheme."

As regards the notices issued by the NMMC chief, the judges noted that it only asked all private doctors to keep their clinics open and "the same cannot be construed as a notice requisitioning their services for the specific purpose of treating COVID-19 patients and/or working in a COVID-19 hospital."

"There is a difference between specifically requisitioning or drafting services and directing private practitioners to not keep their clinic closed. The intent and object of the NMMC notice was to encourage medical practitioners to keep their dispensaries open," the bench opined.

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