Patna High Court has rapped the Bihar government for its contention that granting weightage marks as incentive to doctors serving in rural areas in their post-graduate entrance exams “would adversely affect” those posted in urban areas. A division bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sanjay Kumar, in its judgement on May 28, rejected the state government’s stand, terming it “illogical, illegal and immoral”.

“The percentage of vacancies of doctors in the rural areas is very high and grossly disproportionate,” the court remarked and pointed out that “in this backdrop the Supreme Court had, in a judgement, while acknowledging the sacrifice made by the doctors posted in the rural areas observed that the academic merit of the candidate must also reckon the services rendered for the common or public good”.

The bench pointed out that the Supreme Court had also taken note of “concentration of doctors in urban areas” due to which a large numbers of posts in rural areas remain unfilled.

The court also expressed displeasure over the fact that out of 11,645 sanctioned posts of doctors in the state, 8,768 are lying vacant, 5,674 of which fall in the rural, remote or difficult areas.

“Incentivizing posting of doctors/medical staff…can only be in public interest… Is it that with the posting of doctors in the urban areas, the general health of the people there has improved? …… Is it that with their posting in urban areas, referral to the private hospitals has stopped,” the court asked.

“To our understanding it is not so. So how does posting majority of doctors in the urban areas help anyone, save and except perpetuate vested interests,” it remarked. In Bihar, it is an admitted fact that many posts in rural health centres and hospitals are lying vacant as doctors are not willing to serve in such areas, the bench observed.

“…and for this reason, Medical Council of India provided incentive to motivate doctors serve in such areas by adding weightage of 10 per cent to 30 per cent in marks of NEET,” the court said.

“Undoubtedly, discretion of according benefits vests with the government but then its exercise has to be based on some rationale and not in an arbitrary and capricious manner,” the court noted. The High Court directed the Bihar Entrance Combined Competitive Examination Board to redraw the merit list for post-graduate medical courses.

As a parting note in the order that ran into more than 50 pages, the court said the Chief Secretary of the state “shall, with the normalization of the current pandemic COVID-19, ensure that the vacancies in the rural/remote/difficult areas are filled up to the maximum extent possible either by transfer or expediting the process of recruitment”.