If they are afraid of Covid-19, how will they treat patients: Bombay HC on Medicos' demand of vaccination before offline MUHS Exams
Nagpur: The Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court is likely to pronounce its judgment today in the plea challenging the offline examination from June 10 for thousands of medical students pursuing their education under Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS).
However, during the hearing of the case yesterday, the High Court single bench of Justice Avinash Gharote criticized the lack of courage in the would-be-doctors when the plea demanded to hold either online examination or prior vaccination of all its students before offline exams. Pointing out that there is a lack of vaccines and every one carries the risk of getting infected the bench added that "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?" observed the court.
Justice Gharote further added that the doctors could choose to appear for two semesters together in December.
This comes after challenging the recent decision of Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS) to conduct offline examinations from June 10 onwards, a physiotherapy student along with an NGO approached the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court seeking directions to hold either hold the examination online or only after all the students, support staff, and teachers are vaccinated.
Medical Dialogues had recently reported that the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) had also challenged the State's direction of asking candidates to sign an undertaking relieving the State of any responsibility if any of the candidates test positive for Covid-19 after writing the examination. Further, the petition sought to declare the May 19 circular of MUHS as "arbitrary and unreasonable" as it's violative of Articles 14 (Right to equality) and 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution of India
The counsel for the petitioners, advocate Rahul Bhangde pointed out before the Court that even though the medical students are continuously being asked to be selfless as they are the would-be-doctors and soon would belong to the noble profession, but unfortunately, they are not being given the benefits of frontline workers.
Submitting that the students going abroad are getting vaccinated, he further read out the Prime Minister's speech on the importance of students' lives and said, "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?" adds Live Law.
MUHS, on the other hand, was ready with its response to the petition even before the court could issue notice.
Abhijit Deshpande, the counsel appearing for MUHS, informed the Court that in last year too, offline examinations were held and the students were well informed about the State's decision to conduct physical examinations.
Assuring the court that there is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to ensure proper sanitization between examinations like last year, the counsel for MUHS further pointed out that a 'Suraksha Kavach Scheme' has been offered to the students and the staff if any fatality occurs.
"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 dispatched," he argued.
Further questioning the claim in the petition that many of the students are unwilling to write the examination, he further contended, "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."
Referring to the earlier order of Bombay HC in last year denying similar reliefs to students, the counsel for MUHS further submitted, "We are conducting the Winter examination now. The entire calendar will collapse this way," adds the daily.
After listening to these contentions, the bench questioned why the petitioners had not approached the court earlier and in response the counsel for the petitioners pointed out that the examination kept getting deferred, adding "In December, no one had a clue about the second wave."
Referring to the MUHS's submission that two phases of the examination are already complete, Bhangde, the counsel for petitioners argued that the first two phases concerned only PG students and final year UG students, who were already vaccinated by the State.
When the court pointed out the difference adding the PG students were treating COVID patients while the candidates in this case are only being asked to attend 20 days of examinations, the counsel for the petitioners argued that the structure of the families changed entirely as many of the students either lost one or both parents due to the pandemic.
Reminding the court that when Bombay HC denied relief to students last year the choice of vaccination was not there, the counsel for the petitioners added, "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?"
He further stated that the students were not afraid of examination but if even one student choose to appear for the examination despite having symptoms, the examination could become a super-spreader event.
"They've been giving exams throughout their lives. They gave the medical entrance exam. But please get them vaccinated first," he contended.
To this, the bench responded adding that it could consider asking all the students to appear for the examination only after testing negative for Covid-19.
Further answering to the petitioners' contention that the students had not taken the oath yet and were only students, the Court observed, "The oath doesn't bind a human being, it's in his character. Doesn't the citizen have a duty? "
The counsel for the petitioners responded to this saying, "But the State has a paramount duty to protect the lives of its citizens."
Finally, reserving the case for orders on June 5, the HC bench observed, as reported by The Hindu, "So should everything in the country stop till everyone is vaccinated? Let the student get tested before he gets out of the house. Today, even those who are 45 years and above are not getting vaccines, how can students be bypassed? Getting infected is a risk all of us carry."