The Centre today told Supreme Court that steps have already been taken to stop private hospitals from retaining original certificates of nurses while employing them and states have been asked to "initiate penal action" against violators.

"The government has taken a very serious view of such unethical practices on the part of certain private hospitals / clinical establishments in the states and Union territories," the apex court was told during hearing of a PIL filed last year by NGO Pravasi Legal Cell after the matter was raised at various fora including Parliament. A bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia posted the matter for further hearing in July after it was informed that the Centre has swung into action and a circular has been sent in February to the state governments stressing upon the need to protect and safeguard the interests of nurses /para-medical staff working in private hospitals and clinics.

Additional Solicitor General Gaurab Banerji submitted to the bench, which also included justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar, a February 24 letter of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which asked the state governments to issue instruction to private hospitals to "refrain" from retaining original certificates of nurses and para-medical staffers. "All the state governments are hereby directed to issue instructions to the effect that all the hospitals / clinical establishments registered with the state / within their jurisdiction, may strictly refrain from the practice of retaining any of the original certificates or the documents of the nurses / para-medical staff employed by them. "They may return forthwith the original certificates / documents to the concerned personnel within a fortnight at the latest and in case of any doubt, the original documents could be sought, however, only their attested photocopies may be retained by the authorities," said the ministry's letter to the state governments.

The Centre also asked the states to "monitor" and seek a regular compliance report from the concerned hospitals for "scrupulously" following the directions. It said in the event of any such incident of confiscation of certificates by hospitals, the authorities "may immediately look into the matter and initiate strong penal action against such erring hospitals." The issue assumes significance as the apex court on May 7 had sought replies of the Centre and various state governments to another plea for framing guidelines for hospitals, particularly private ones, to prevent them from retaining original certificates of nurses at the time of their employment.

The PIL filed by Indian Professional Nurses' Association (IPNA) had accused hospital authorities of harassing them and having hostile attitude towards them and continuously violating their fundamental of nurses working all over India. It says that the nurses are "literally treated as bonded labourers and are asked to make payment to get back their certificates". IPNA submitted that there are no guidelines to protect and safeguard the interest of nurses working in various hospitals in different states and the authorities concerned are unnecessary harassing them.

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