‘A Republic Day gift’: SC asks Centre to help 500 foreign-returned MBBS students
The Supreme Court told the government that it was refraining from issuing any directions but the Centre should try to find a solution by the next date of hearing, January 25
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre to consider on humanitarian grounds the plight of nearly 500 medical students who returned from abroad during Covid-19 and were denied registration as doctors as they couldn’t do their clinical training and completed more than one year of their course online.
With their careers at stake and left with no recourse as they completed their course online and even received provisional medical degrees from universities in China, Ukraine, Russia and the Philippines, the bench of justices BR Gavai and Vikram Nath appealed to the Centre to consider their “precarious situation” and come back with a solution to the “human problem” at hand by January 25.
“Give them a Republic Day gift,” the bench said, as it added, “If no solution is found, their entire career will be left in the lurch. Though we find this is a fit case where some solution must be evolved by experts in the field, we refrain from issuing any directions. However, we request the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MHFW), Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in consultation with the National Medical Commission (NMC) to find out a solution to address this human problem. We are sure the Government of India will give due importance to our suggestion.”
The court was dealing with a bunch of petitions filed by students who challenged the scheme issued by the NMC in July 2022 that only permitted registration of undergraduate medical students who returned during their final year of study in a foreign university and had completed their course before June 30 this year.
Many students who returned during their seventh semester (three-and-a-half years of course) claimed that Covid forced them to leave their colleges in China, the Philippines, Ukraine and Russia and the lockdown prevented them from travelling back. They were forced to complete their course online and were now faced with this embargo that prevents them from getting provisional registration as doctors. Some of the students who returned said they had even cleared the Foreign Graduates Medical Examination (FGME), the screening test for those who have undertaken medical education abroad.
The NMC counsel Gaurav Sharma told the court that the commission was not against the students but could not risk lowering the medical standards as these students who have not taken practical training for 1.5 years can be a danger to the lives of patients.
“We cannot take even 1% risk for Indian patients. According to us, these persons are not that qualified to treat patients,” Sharma said, adding that they should complete their practical training abroad and return.
Defending the July 2022 scheme, NMC further stated that those in the final year of study have already undertaken clinical training for four years and were considered eligible for registration.
Additional solicitor general (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati supported NMC, underlining that the scheme was drawn up after consultation with the ministries of health, external affairs and home affairs.
“Practical training is a sine qua non (essential condition) of medical practice,” she said.
The bench told Centre and NMC: “We only request to the highest authority at Centre as the careers of nearly 500 students are involved who have put in five years of studies. We will restrict it only to those who were in their 7th or 8th semester. We leave it to the government to consider on humanitarian grounds.”
Noting the circumstances under which the students returned, the bench said, “The situation of Covid was unimaginable. After centuries, humanity had to face such a situation. We are in full agreement with Union and NMC that academic training cannot take place of practical training. But the parents of these students must have spent huge amounts. They cannot return to their institutions to complete their training as the relationship between them and the institution stands severed. The students have also passed the FGME.”
Senior advocate S Nagamuthu who appeared for some students from Chennai told the court that 12 states accommodated these students but in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the state authorities concerned requested the NMC to amend their scheme to facilitate the petitioners. However, NMC pointed out that they have written letters to the states which have accommodated these students to withdraw their decision.
The bench felt that the issue clearly felt within the policy domain of the Centre and suggested the government should appoint a committee of experts to come up with a solution by the next date of hearing.
The NMC recently filed an affidavit saying, “Without adequate clinical training, the students cannot be introduced into the system and permitted to treat patients...there can be no compromise in standards of medical education or doctors which has a direct correlation with standards of the health care system in the country.” It added that any attempt to accommodate these students to complete their training in Indian colleges will adversely impact the opportunities for students studying in India.