NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has banned diploma holders in Assam from treating patients suffering from common diseases, perform minor procedures and prescribe certain drugs.

Notably, the Supreme Court, on Tuesday, struck down the Assam Rural Health Regulatory Authority Act 2004 banning diploma holders in medicine and rural health care from treating patients.

The three-year diploma course was introduced by the Assam government almost two decades ago, to strengthen the rural healthcare infrastructure by producing a cadre of barefoot doctors allowed to practice modern medicine, albeit to a very limited extent.

A bench comprising Justices BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna of the Supreme Court upheld a previous judgment by the Gauhati high court and ruled that prescription of minimum standards for higher education, the power of authorities to recognise or de-recognise an institution etc are areas over which the exclusive legislative to make law lies with the parliament under Entry 66 List 1 of the Constitution, and not the state legislature.

“The Assam Act which seeks to regulate such aspects of medical education is therefore liable to be set aside on the ground that the state legislature lacks the competence to legislate with respect to the aspects enumerated above,” the Supreme Court said.

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The judgement read: “The doctrine of repugnancy as such would not apply within the meaning of Article 254 of the Constitution… Although Entry 25 of List III gives powers to both the central and state legislatures to pass laws on the subject of education, it is significant to note that any such law made by the state legislature is subject to, inter alia, Entry 66 of List I.”

“Hence, where there is a direct conflict between a state law and a union law over a matter of the coordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education, such as in medical education concerning modern medicine, the state law cannot have any validity as the state legislature does not possess legislative competence,” it added.

“It follows from this directive that the state shall make all possible efforts to ensure equitable access to health services. These efforts must be made to progressively realise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, as acknowledged in international conventions and agreements,” Justice Nagarathna read out.

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