About two thousand resident doctors working in government medical colleges and hospitals across Gujarat went on strike at the beginning of August 2021. The doctors were protesting a state government order reneging on a policy that allowed doctors who served in COVID-19 wards to serve a shorter period of mandatory government service. This policy reversal was at the centre of the protest but the doctors also raised other issues such as recognition of the sacrifices made by doctors during the pandemic, payment as per the seventh pay commission, postings in their parent academic institutes to compensate for the experience they missed while on COVID-19 duty and for their senior residency to be recognised as bond duty. The doctors called the strike off after 10 days even though the state government made only a minor concession on one of their demands.
Medical students in government institutions in Gujarat are required to serve a year of bond service, mostly in rural postings, after completing their three-year post-graduation courses. Students can opt out of this bond service only by paying Rs 40 lakh. Many doctors return to the colleges they graduate from for a one-year senior residency after their year of bond service. This qualifies them to assume teaching roles at their respective institutes.
During the peak of the second wave of coronavirus in April and May 2021, the Gujarat government devised an incentive for post-graduate students to remain on campus and help with the COVID-19 patient load. Jai Prakash Shivahare, the health commissioner of Gujarat, issued an order on 12 April which said that each day of COVID-19 duty by junior resident doctors would be counted as two days of their compulsory bond service. COVID-19 duty included attending to COVID-19 patients as well as working in the testing and triage areas of the hospital. Each graduating batch of doctors would be allowed to stay at their medical colleges for three extra months to ensure that the hospitals were not understaffed while dealing with the coronavirus surge.
As the second wave subsided, the Gujarat government withdrew its 12 April order. It issued a fresh directive on 31 July for recent graduates to serve at rural postings for a period of one year as required by the terms of their original pre-pandemic bond contracts. This new order did not mention the 12 April directive of bond service time being counted in the 1:2 ratio, that is, each day of COVID-19 work being counted as two days served. It only stated that each doctor would have to serve the complete bond period of one year. On 4 August, resident doctors across medical colleges in Gujarat went on strike.
By 12 August, the doctors officially called off their strike. The Gujarat government issued a written order on that day stating that the year of senior residency of students of the 2018 batch would be counted as part of their bond service. This meant that students from that single batch who completed their senior residency in 2021 at a government medical college would not have to serve another year in bond service as previous batches had done. In effect, the doctors would have to compulsorily spend the year of senior residency at their colleges or pay to get out of their bond service. “This does bring some relief to us, but of course we are disappointed in the government as well, because they didn’t even comply with our foremost demand, that is the 1:2 ratio bond service,” a resident doctor from the Bhavnagar Medical College who is from this 2018 batch, said. He wished to remain anonymous. “But we had pressure from the government, and some of us were scared we’ll lose our job or pay so this is fine for now.”