Madras HC directs ESIC colleges not to force MBBS doctors to serve for five years; refers issue to Division Bench
Chennai: Taking up the issue of mandatory bond service for medicos, the Madras High Court has pronounced that MBBS students of Employees State Insurance Corporation-run-medical colleges (ESIC) admitted under the State government quota cannot be forced to sign an undertaking asking them to serve the corporation for five years after completion of the course or pay ₹7.5 lakh with 15% interest per annum.
This comes following a batch of writ petitions from 13 doctors who were allotted MBBS seats under the State quota in ESIC Medical College at K.K. Nagar in 2013-14. During the admission, the petitioners and their guardians were reportedly forced to sign bonds agreeing to serve ESIC institutions across the country for five years after the completion of the course.
Despite having been allotted to the ESIC college on merit, the petitioners were compelled to sign the bonds. The petitioners challenged the appointment orders issued to them for serving in hospitals run by the corporation in different parts of the country. They sought the court to abstain the corporation from enforcing the bonds executed seven years ago.
The petitioners' counsel submitted that that only postgraduate ( PG Medical ) students were required to sign such bonds, that too for a period of two years, by some State governments. No other institution in the country insists upon undergraduate students to sign bonds, thereby jeopardizing the chances of the doctors to pursue higher education. He further added that all the petitioners were interested in pursuing PG medical courses and they had also appeared for the NEET.
The petitioners' contentions were also supported by the Medical Council of India (MCI). Advocate V.P. Raman, appearing for the council informed the court that ESIC, despite being a self-financing institution, had no right to demand bonds from MBBS students.
Responding to the contentions, ESIC counsel TNC Kaushik submitted that the requirement regarding bond was clearly mentioned in the prospectus and so the petitioners could not go back on their word after having signed the bonds. He further added that another judge of the High Court had dismissed a similar case last year on the ground that what applies to PG courses would equally apply to undergraduate courses too.
After hearing both the parties, Justice Subramanian observed that it would be a violation of Article 14 (Right to equality) of the Constitution to discriminate between meritorious students who had been allotted seats under the State quota in different colleges. He pointed out that the requirement of bond in ESIC colleges was not part of the guidelines issued by the Directorate of Medical Education during admissions.
"When students admitted in State government-run-colleges were not required to sign bonds, how could a different yardstick be applied to those admitted in ESIC colleges," he wondered. It was also pointed out that ESIC does not give any fee concession to its students who had to pay ₹26,000 a year as against an average of ₹13,610 collected by State government-run-medical colleges.
The court further noted the fact that ESIC does not provide free medical care and that it runs hospitals only for its subscribers. He said the other single judge of the High Court had taken a contrary view by following a Supreme Court judgment delivered in a case related to bonds that had been insisted from postgraduate students and not undergraduate students.
The judge observed that MBBS students admitted under the State government quota in Employees State Insurance Corporation-run-medical colleges cannot be forced to give undertakings that they would serve the corporation for five years after completion of the course or pay ₹7.5 lakh with 15% interest per annum, reports The Hindu.
The case has been forwarded to a larger bench since another single judge had taken a contrary view on the same subject in 2019 by a plea moved by another student. Justice R. Subramanian has directed the High Court Registry to place the case papers before Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi for an authoritative pronouncement on the issue,