India's Supreme Court yesterday ordered doctors striking against a government affirmative action plan for low-caste Hindus to get back to work, a news agency reported.
The two-week strike has hampered services at government hospitals across India, although senior doctors not taking part have managed to keep emergency rooms up-and-running.
Along with the striking doctors, tens of thousands of medical students and young software programmers, engineers and bankers have protested the plan to increase the number of places reserved for low-caste Hindus and ethnic minorities in colleges and certain professions.
The court and officials, among them Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, have repeatedly called on the physicians to voluntarily end the strike.
But with the doctors defiant and medical care suffering -- numerous outpatient departments have been shuttered and many poor patients forced to turn to expensive private clinics -- the court moved yesterday to end the protest.
The court said doctors must return to work within three days, and that if they do officials should not take punitive action against them, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Doctors' groups said they would meet later yesterday to discuss the court decision, although it remained unclear how the judges or officials planned to enforce the back-to-work order.
"We will discuss the implications of the Supreme Court order then take a decision on whether to continue with the strike or change the nature of our protest," said Arnab Pal of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
The government's plan would increase the quota for low-caste students in state-funded medical, engineering and other professional colleges from 22.5 percent to 49.5 percent.