Armed forces lose a battle, to a doctor
After training a woman doctor at the Air Force Command Hospital here early last decade, the Indian Air Force refused to employ her on the grounds that she was “obese”, and six years later demanded that she reimburse the cost of the training.
An exasperated Dr Rashmi Manjunath approached the Karnataka High Court, which has rejected the IAF’s demand.
Little did the 34-year-old doctor, who took up a post-graduate course at the Hospital after campus selection by the Armed Forces Medical Services (FMS) expect that her selection for a course at the Command Hospital in the early 2000s to fulfil her life’s ambition of serving the armed forced would get her rejected and land her in a decade-long litigation.
Dr Manjunath was selected for a course conducted by the AFMS in different branches of medicine at the designated defence hospitals to train specialist medical officers. She underwent training in diploma in dermatology venerology and leprosy at the Command Hospital, affiliated to the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences, in 2003. She completed the course in 2005 and was to serve the armed forces for five years (Short Service Commission) as per a Rs 5-lakh surety bond she executed on October 22, 2002.
However, after completion of her course, the doctor underwent two medical tests and was declared unfit owing to obesity. Hence, she was not commissioned.
She got a second blow in the form of a notice from the Union Government to pay the security amount of Rs 5 lakh along with interest of 12 per cent per annum in 2008 with a summons to appear before the court following a petition by the Centre. In the trial court, she submitted that she was ready to join the services.
However, she had been barred by the test declaring her medically unfit. And she was not even offered the Short Service Commission.
However, the court allowed the petition by the Union Government and directed the doctor to pay penalty.
Dr Manjunath then moved the High Court where she contended that the IAF’s demand for payment of the security bond would have applied if she had refused to join the armed forces after she was declared fit or when she was issued an order commissioning her.
Justice A S Bopanna, who heard the matter, allowed the appeal and set aside the order demanding the payment of penalty. He observed: “When the document produced by the plaintiff does not establish the case and the document itself indicates that the plaintiff, contrary to the security bond, has issued the notice and demanded the damages, the defendant is not liable to pay.”
He directed the registry to refund 25 per cent of the amount deposited by Dr Rashmi Manjunath before appealing before the High Court. The court also observed that the lower court was not justified in granting the decree in favour of the hospital.