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Justice Anand Venkatesh’s strong vaccine for medical college admission taint virus

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court

Hats off  to Justice Anand Venkatesh, Madras High Court, for his bold, stern and masterly verdict ‘literally spewing venom on those who deserved it and more, (as a lawyer friend messaged to me). Six Puducherry Medical Colleges were fined Rs.30 lakhs for flouting the Medical Council of India (MCI) regulations and not following the Central Admission Committee (CENTAC) merit list, while admitting students to postgraduate medical courses in 2017. The court also upheld the MCI’s orders to cancel admission of 65 students, who were selected through illegal methods. These students were permitted to write the final examinations subject to the result in the writ petitions. Now that the writ petitions have been dismissed, the 65 students lost the benefit of Post Graduate Courses they had already completed. A sad, unfortunate state of affairs but one which came about not in small measure, from contribution of  their own acts or conduct or the machinations  of the college authorities, to which the  families of the students were privy and party to. It was a tragedy that was waiting to happen.

Medical Courses in India are a high stakes game. There is so much riding on it, for all the stakeholders. The vehemence with which the political class in Tamil Nadu, has sided with these institutions, on the NEET dispensation is a Neat exposition of it. The judgment of Justice Anand Venkatesh has come, not a day too soon .

At one level, the verdict may seem a ‘harsh, heartless, unsympathetic pronouncement’ as a student put it. They may claim and feign total ignorance of the taint perpetrated by the institutions and plead innocence and suggest they were the unfortunate fall guys or gals. Sorry, that would be a totally wrong inference. The students and their families cannot plead innocence for they were and would have been party to the benediction from the medical colleges, granted to them illegally.

Tamil Nadu and Puducherry have been notorious for such transgressions for long, and it is singularly unfortunate that lives and careers of young students are sacrificed at the altar of expediency. Justice Anand Venkatesh has been magnanimous enough to admit that the High Court cannot absolve itself of the blame,  for not having caught the issue by the scruff of the neck contemporaneously, and allowing the wounds to fester, to, after the students had completed their courses. The delay was attributable to the Court and the orders allowing the students to write the final exams ‘subject to the result of the writ petitions’ was a near red herring taking the students up the garden path, to be encountered by a hell hole, from the orders dt.7th Sept,2020, out of the blue.

Who is to blame? Who is responsible for sacrificing time, effort, resources and energies of the students? Would the fines imposed on the colleges be sufficient compensation for the sins committed by them? Can the students and their families plead innocence and seek equity as they have completed the courses, even if the original admissions are declared to be illegal? So many questions and the answers for which ultimately are unlikely to be satisfactory to the student community and their families. They may still harbour the mindset that the learned judge was too harsh and unfair in displaying a warped vision in being oblivious of the trials and tribulations of the students’ misery. No, they would be wrong. The learned judge was not only fully alive and aware but given good and valid reasons, as to why they did not deserve any equity on this occasion and they were not blameless for what has befallen on them. The Supreme Court was equally ruthless in the matter of candidates who had availed admissions based on false and fabricated community certificates. (Jagdish Balram Bahira case-2017).  

 n the 1980s and 1990 we had the continuing spectacle before the Madras High Court, tapping into the benevolence and munificence of the court to sit for such exams. Year on year, it happened. And then after results, they used to be back in Court, pleading mercy and equity for declaration of results. The High Court saw it as a large-hearted gesture and granted them the reliefs.  In fact, as was then known in the court corridors, these litigations were ‘all sponsored by the institutes themselves, for it mattered to their very existence as commercial enterprises’.  

Alas, there came a Judge and Bench who put a full stop to this ‘annual festivities’ as they called it. They said they cannot permit the illegality to continue ‘with the blessings of a court of law”. Someone had to pay a price for it to cease. On 22nd Mar, 1993, Justices M. Srinivasan and Thangavelu came down with an iron hand and dealt a mortal blow to these ‘pernicious practices’. With that, the annual feature of students getting permission to sit for final exams, in unrecognised ‘phantom institutes’ ceased once and for all.

This is how the Supreme Court greeted the High Court judgment. “A Division Bench of the High Court consisting of M. Srinivasan and Thangamani, JJ, dismissed the writ petitions. M. Srinivasan J., who spoke for the Bench, has given a scholarly judgment. The case-law on the subject has been dealt with in detail and the conclusions culled out succinctly .The High Court judgment has been of utmost assistance to us. These appeals via special leave are by the Teachers Training Institutes against the judgment of the Division Bench of the High Court.”  (St. John’s Training Institute v. State of Tamil Nadu).

This verdict was instrumental in elevating the author of it, Justice M Srinivasan as Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court and thence to the Supreme Court itself. It was that sort of a quality verdict, even if it was perceived to be ‘harsh, hard, heartless, unsympathetic on the lot of the impacted students’, then as now.

It was time that these institutions realise that they cannot play with the lives and careers of students and their families by enticing them to partake in an illegality and suffer the consequences. The institutions had to be made an example of. They cannot act like mercenaries and escape accountability. Their licences to carry on, must also suffer a setback .A monetary fine would be a rap on the knuckles or less. Given a choice, they may pay ten times the imposed penalty to avoid implication on the 65 students losing the benefit of their PG degrees. That says it all.

Justice Anand Venkatesh deserves our commendations for his ruthlessly cold and objective orders sticking to the letter of the law and spirit of it as well. And while students had to pay a price, the price that the colleges have been asked to pay would mean little unless Medical Council of India and the powers that be do the clean-up act. There is a lesson in it for the High Court too to show expedition in dealing with such sensitive causes. Medical education is too sacrosanct to play around with the lives of We the People. Or so we believe!

     (Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court
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