Taking suo motu cognisance of the adverse effect on patients at government hospitals in the State owing to the doctors’ strike, the Karnataka High Court on Tuesday directed the State government to prima facie treat doctors’ conduct as criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and initiate legal action against them.

A Division Bench comprising acting Chief Justice K. Sreedhar Rao and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer passed the order while initiating a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) petition based on the reports published in newspapers on the plight of poor patients visiting government hospitals.

While referring to a report that an accident victim had died at Sidlaghatta hospital in Chikballapur district owing to non-availability of proper medical care due to doctors’ strike, the Bench directed the government to initiate action against the doctors concerned treating their conduct prima facie under Section 304A of the IPC, which describes “causing death by negligence” as an offence and prescribes punishment for up to two years.

The Bench said that the strike by the doctors would also attract criminal law through Section 491 of the IPC, which describes “breach of contract to attend on and supply wants of helpless person” as an offence.

“The State can take legal action and arrest the doctors on strike. Why are you [government] hesitating to take action against them…?,” the Bench observed orally while making it clear that its view on criminal culpability of doctors on strike was only prima facie in nature and would be subject to hearing on the petition.

While ordering issue of notices to the Chief Secretary and the Secretary of Health and Family Welfare, the court asked the government to file its response within two weeks.