As the division bench has clarified that it has limited expertise in the matter, the Union Government has taken its advice and formed a committee.
ACTING on the Supreme Court’s suggestion, the Union Government has constituted a committee to examine the demands of students who have returned from Ukraine, the court was informed on Wednesday.
Additional Solicitor General of India, Aishwarya Bhati, informed the court that the committee has already conducted its first meeting and is expected to come up with an update within six weeks.
A division bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Vikram Nath was in the process of hearing 25 petitions: one set by Ukraine-returned students, another by students who had to evacuate from China due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Union Government and the National Medical Council (NMC) have been impleaded as respondents in these petitions.
The committee is likely to have a limited scope in that it will only be examining the concerns raised by those who had completed their medical course before June 30, 2022, the cut-off date stated in an NMC notice from July last year (many students were able to finish their academic classes online after they were forced to evacuate Ukraine in February last year). The NMC had mandated the students who meet the above criteria to undergo two years of clinical training, instead of the usual one year.
However, the bench clarified on Wednesday that the committee will hold discretion over expanding the scope of its mandate to include students who were in an earlier stage of their medical education than those covered by the NMC notification.
In an order pronounced on December 9, the Supreme Court had called the situation “very precarious” since the students had already completed the course, but could not return to their respective universities to complete clinical training.
While recognising that “this is a fit case wherein some solution has to be evolved”, the bench had refrained from issuing any directions, stating that the court did not possess any expertise in this context and “should not enter into the domain exclusively reserved for the experts”. It had thereafter asked various ministries of the Union Government and the NMC to address the issue at the earliest.
The Supreme Court had also granted liberty to the Union Government to appoint a committee “if necessary”. The composition of this committee is yet to be made public by the Union Government.
The bench’s general position on this matter was summarised by Justice Gavai on Wednesday when he stated that the court had taken cognisance of the various petitions on humanitarian grounds, “otherwise you have no case”.
On the accommodation of foreign students whose education had been disrupted in India, the Supreme Court’s December 9 order notes that various states have already accommodated them in medical universities situated in their respective states. This, despite the Union Government’s maintained position that accommodating such students in India would “disrupt” medical education in the country.
Advocates for the petitioners had informed the bench in November last year that around eleven Indian states were willing to accommodate Ukraine-returned medical students, but were waiting for Union Government’s approval in this regard.
Thousands of Indian medical students studying in Ukraine were forced to evacuate their universities and return to India, with no certainty as to the completion of their courses, after Russia attacked Ukraine at the end of February last year.
On July 28 last year, the NMC notified a scheme for the completion of mandatory internship in India, in pursuance to an order passed by the Supreme Court on April 29 of that year. The scheme applied only to final year students who had been compelled to return to India due to the Russia–Ukraine war or the COVID-19 pandemic, and had subsequently completed their studies and been granted certificate of completion of course/degree by their universities before June 30, 2022.
The NMC permitted the above category of students, as a “one time measure” to appear for the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination but mandated that, upon qualifying, they would be required to undergo two years of Compulsory Rotating Medical Internship, instead of the usual one year to become eligible for registration as a medical practitioner.
In September, the NMC allowed students to avail the mobility programme offered by some Ukrainian universities stating that they would accept completion of courses in countries other than India, with the approval of the parent university/institution in Ukraine. It had added that the phrase ‘global mobility’ cannot be interpreted to mean accommodation of these students in Indian colleges/universities, as the extant regulations in India do not permit migration of students from foreign universities to India.
According to the National Medical Commission Act, 2019, students studying in foreign medical colleges are required to complete their education and obtain a degree from only a single university.
On November 11, the Supreme Court asked the Union Government to file an affidavit detailing the number of Indian students who were enrolled in Ukrainian medical universities and those who have been accommodated in other countries under the academic mobility programme.
Through an affidavit filed on November 23, the Union Government submitted that a total of 15,783 students are enrolled at various universities in Ukraine, out of which just under 15,000 were undergoing online classes and 640 were undergoing offline education in Ukraine. Only 170 students had been able to avail the benefit of the academic mobility programme, the affidavit disclosed.
Meanwhile, during the last winter session of the Parliament, the Minister of State for External Affairs, Meenakshi Lekhi had informed the Lok Sabha that around 1,100 Indian students continue to be stranded in Ukraine.