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'We Have Vaccines For Students Going Abroad, Not For Students Here': Medical Students Plead To Bombay High Court For Vaccination Before Exams, Orders Tomorrow

Sharmeen Hakim
4 Jun 2021 1:33 PM GMT
We Have Vaccines For Students Going Abroad, Not For Students Here: Medical Students Plead To Bombay High Court For Vaccination Before Exams, Orders Tomorrow
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The Bombay High Court (Nagpur Bench) will pronounce its order on Saturday in a plea seeking online examination or vaccination for nearly 45,000 undergraduate medical students slated to appear for theory examination from June 10, 2021, physically. A single bench of Justice Avinash Gharote heard the PIL on Friday and reserved if for orders observing that there is a shortage of vaccines...

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The Bombay High Court (Nagpur Bench) will pronounce its order on Saturday in a plea seeking online examination or vaccination for nearly 45,000 undergraduate medical students slated to appear for theory examination from June 10, 2021, physically.

A single bench of Justice Avinash Gharote heard the PIL on Friday and reserved if for orders observing that there is a shortage of vaccines and questioned the fate of citizens if would-be doctors are afraid of disease.

"Life is uncertain…."

"You want to enter a noble profession. And you are afraid of contracting the disease? What is going to be the fate of citizens if a would-be doctor is losing courage?"

He added that doctors could choose to appear for two semesters together in December.

However, the petitioners' lawyer Rahul Bhangde emphatically argued that medical students are constantly asked to be selfless, as they would become part of a noble profession but aren't given the benefits other frontline workers get.

Moreover, while students going abroad are getting vaccinated, there is little respite for medical students here.

"Out of 40k students, if these exams result in even ten fatalities, is it worth it? We have to weigh both sides. Why can't these students be vaccinated?" he said while reading out the Prime Minister's speech on the importance of students' lives.

BACKGROUND

In the PIL filed last week, petitioners - NGO HERD Foundation and physiotherapy student, Nitesh Tantarpale, sought for MUHS's May 19 circular decision to be declared "arbitrary and unreasonable" as it's violative of Articles 14 (Right to equality) and 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution of India.

It further challenges the State's decision asking examinees to sign an undertaking absolving the State of any responsibility if students test positive for the covid-19 disease, consequent to the examination.

Arguments

During the hearing on Friday, the MUHS was ready with its response to the PIL before the court could even issue notice.

Its counsel Abhijit Deshpande submitted that physical examinations were conducted last year, as well. Moreover, the students were informed well about the State's decision to conduct offline tests.

"We are at the nth hour now. Two phases of the winter 2020 Examination are already complete. Only the third phase is remaining, which is to begin on Thursday. Question papers have been despatched."

Deshpande said there is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for sanitisation between examinations, followed even last year. He pointed out a 'Suraksha Kavach Scheme' for the students and staff in the event of a fatality.

Deshpande questioned the petitioner's locus to claim many students may want to get done with the examination,

"If they are afraid of Covid-19, how will they treat patients? Only one student has come to court out of 44,000 students. He is a physiotherapy student…The petitioner can take the exam with the supplementary batch. There is a provision for that. They are talking about other students signing some Google form, but those students are not before the court."

Deshpande also cited the Bombay High Court's order from last year that denied similar reliefs to medical students.

"We are conducting the Winter examination now. The entire calendar will collapse this way."

In response to the bench's query about why they didn't approach the court earlier, petitioner's advocate Bhangde said the examination kept getting postponed.

"In December, no one had a clue about the second wave, " he said.

Bhangde argued that the first two phases concerned PG students and final year UG students, and the State already vaccinated most of them.

The bench, however, pointed out that PG students were treating covid-19 patients, while petitioners were only asked to give an exam across 20 days.

Bhangde argued that the structure of families has changed with many students losing one or both parents.

He said when the HC order was passed last year, the choice of vaccination was not available.

"Today, we have a choice to make. Do we want to put these students at risk for an examination, or can we wait for them to be vaccinated?"

Bhangde argued that students are not afraid of exams.

"They've been giving exams throughout their lives. They gave the medical entrance exam. But please get them vaccinated first."

Bhangde submitted that even if one student decides to sit for the exam despite having covid-19 symptoms, the examination can become a super spreader event.

The bench responded by saying it could consider asking every student to come with the covid-19 negative report.

When Bhangde said they were still students and hadn't taken the doctor's oath, the court observed, "The oath doesn't bind a human being, it's in his character. Doesn't the citizen have a duty? "

"But the State has a paramount duty to protect the lives of its citizens," Bhangde argued.

The State's counsel also submitted that all precautions are in place, and currently, vaccination is only being given to students going abroad.

"Yes, but we don't have vaccines for students here." Bhangde quipped before the bench reserved the case for orders.

[HERD Foundation vs UOI]


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