Punjab Healthcare Commission Act 2010–Jurisdiction Of The Court
It has been observed that in almost every jurisdiction, the respective governments have tried to provide their subjects with better health facilities. Some of them succeeded and a number of them continued to strive. The Government of the Punjab has also taken an initiative to improve the healthcare services within the province. The Government put in its efforts and consequently enacted The Punjab Healthcare Commission Act, 2010. The primary purpose of the enactment is to improve healthcare services and ban quackery as stated in the preamble of the said statute. The Act comprises of 41 sections and 7 chapters.
This enactment, however, suffers a few confusions and lacuna. The first confusion that arises while dealing with the question of jurisdiction is whether the Court of District and Sessions Judge has the jurisdiction to adjudicate upon the matters under this enactment as the court of first instance or the commissions itself sits as the forum of original jurisdiction? And what are the matters that come within the jurisdiction of the Court? There is a misnomer that the acts of Healthcare Commission cannot be questioned in any Court of Law except by way of appeal or writ. The relevant provisions in this regard are section 30 and 31 of the said enactment. Section 31 deals with the question of Appellate Jurisdiction of the Court of District and Session Judge. The proviso clause entails the condition precedent for an appeal to be competent. The proviso clause states that an appeal would be competent only if the commission has already completed its inquiry, reached a conclusion and communicated the order to the parties. The aggrieved from the decision/order of the inquiry commission would prefer an appeal within 30 days from the communication of the order.
Another question of utmost importance is about the remedy available to the subjects against the actions taken during the pendency of the inquiry before the commission. For example, the commission is authorized, by virtue of a few notifications, to seal the premises of healthcare establishments (hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centers etc) found, on the face of it, to be running in contravention of the provisions of the said Act. What is the remedy available to a healthcare establishment if the team of the Healthcare Commission visits it, seals it on account of any reason whatsoever, refers the matter to the commission for inquiry but the commission fails to take up the matter within reasonable time and leaves the healthcare establishment sealed for uncertain period? In these circumstances, such healthcare establishment would invoke the jurisdiction of the Courts of District and Sessions Judge under section 30(a) and 30(b) of the said Act. The said section reads as follows:
“Bar of Jurisdiction”
Save as provided in this Act, no court other than the Court of the District and Sessions Judge shall have jurisdiction–
- to question the validity of any action taken, or intended to be taken, or order made, or anything done or purporting to have been taken, made or done under this Act; or
- to grant an injunction or stay or to make any interim order in relation to any proceeding before, or anything done or intended to be done or purporting to have been done by, or under the orders or at the instance of the Commission.”
Section 30(a) tells us about the actions of the Commission that can be challenged before the Court while Section 30(b) stipulates the forms of relief the Honourable Court of District and Sessions Judge can award. With reference to the above given example, if the healthcare commission fails to take up the matter within a reasonable time, the healthcare establishment would have no option but to file a petition under section 30(a) and 30(b) ibid praying therein to direct the commission to de-seal the sealed premises. But unfortunately, the courts sometimes refuse to take cognizance and where jurisdiction is assumed, there is refusal to award the relief prayed for. It has been observed in many decisions that the Honourable Courts have relied heavily on the argument that the Commission is the forum of original jurisdiction. Then, what is the purpose of section 30? Section 30 also provides for the situation where the commission has intended to take an action which it has not yet taken. So the point is, should the aggrieved knock the door of the very Commission whose act is being challenged? Also, the Act makes no mention of the time period to conclude the inquiry. That means the commission would be justified even if it prolongs the inquiry to months or years. This would give the law enforcement agencies or even the members of the Commission to misuse the law against any hospital, clinic, diagnostic center etc.. Keeping in view the ground realities and the mind set of our society, I do not hesitate to say that this law would give birth to a mafia against the hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare establishments etc.
It is always said that laws are for men, not men are for laws. The legislature while legislating must keep in mind the trend and approach of the society. Laws made are meant to be enforced so the legislature must be very careful so that no one is exploited and the laws help improve the system.