The Tamil Nadu government on Thursday toughened its stand against striking doctors in its service, issuing an ultimatum to them to join work by Friday failing which their posts will be declared vacant.
Doctors under the banner Federation of Government Doctors'' Association have been on the indefinite strike since October 25 pressing their charter of demands which included time-bound promotions and ensuring appropriate patient-doctor ratio in hospitals.
On Thursday, Chief Minister K Palaniswami made it clear these doctors were paid to serve the poor and asserted the government will not remain a mute witness if the people were affected.
"Poor people come to government hospitals...and many are affected (due to the strike).. those refusing to serve these poor people-- the government will not remain mute witness to that," he told reporters in Salem.
He said only those from "unrecognised" associations were staging the protest and that too with an aim of "bringing disrepute to the government."
Health Minister C Vijayabaskar said only around 2,500 of over 14,600 doctors who went on strike were yet to report to duty and appealed to them to withdraw the stir.
Though earlier in the day he said positions of doctors not returning to duty by today will be declared ''vacant'' and the procedures to fill them up would start, he softened his stand later, allowing them time till Friday morning to join work.
"Let them (agitating doctors) announce withdrawing the strike and return to work, we will then hold talks with them," he told reporters.
However, the process to appoint new doctors were also on, he said in an apparent warning to the agitating professionals. Though the government was aware of the importance of doctors, it cannot be "compelled" to implement their demands, he said.
The government was, however, considering their demands, the Minister added.