Around 100 students of SR Medical College Varkala in Thiruvananthapuram are staring at an uncertain future. They enrolled for an MBBS course three years ago, but had almost no regular classes, practicals or lectures.
In 2017, one year after its inception, the SR Medical College and Research Centre was found to have inadequate and substandard facilities to function as a medical college by the Medical Council of India. It then barred the college from accepting admissions for the next consecutive years. Hence, only 2016 batch of students studied in the college.
In December 2019, based on the inspection report by MCI, the Union Health Ministry directed the state government to withdraw the institute's Essentiality Certificate (EC) and to take steps to shift the affected students to other self-financing medical colleges in the state. However, despite the government order, the Kerala Private Medical College Management Association, a collective of 18 medical colleges, on Monday, decided not to admit any students from SR Medical College. With this, around 100 students of the college, who had paid up to Rs 11 lakh per year, are now left in the lurch and their hopes to get a chance to complete their studies in a better institution have been dashed.
âThree years wastedâ
According to Sunita (name changed), a student at the college, classes were going without any issues in 2016 and 2017. They even took the first-year exam and passed as well. The problems in college started in the second year.
âWe did not have any practical classes as there were no patients. There were no corpses for anatomy classes as well. We remained patient. Once the second year started in 2017, the teachers went on strike over salary issue. As a result, there were no classes," she recalled.
In January 2018, the students started protesting, demanding that the classes resume. "We continued to go to college, although there were no classes. We approached the court as well. Finally, with no hope in sight, we stopped going to college after November 2018,â explained Sunita.
âI got admission in the college on a merit basis,â Sidharth, who joined the college in 2016, told TNM. âFor three years, we had no proper classes, there were no patients here and for many exams, they just made every student pass. We have no idea about our education right now; all we know is, our time and money got wasted,â he said.
Sidharth was the first student to approach the High Court seeking intervention into the irregularities of the colleges.
In June 2019, a video revealed that the college authorities brought a number of 'patients' for rent just before the inspections by the Medical Council of India. A group of people were allegedly dropped in a bus at the college, where they were to pose as patients. They were asked to remain in hospital wards until the inspections are over, and this happened multiple times, the students allege.
The students resorted to protest when the MCI authorities reached the college for inspection, to highlight their demands and the malpractices of the college. Cherunniyoor Grama Panchayat, too, had earlier told TNM that it had not given SR Education and Charitable Trust permission to construct buildings for a medical college.
The students also alleged that there was no high-intensity electricity connection in the college and that none of the elevators was functioning. âAs there were no hostel facilities on the premises, students were asked to stay in the pay wards of the hospital, which is on the sixth floor,â Sidharth said.
âNow itâs governmentâs responsibilityâ
Based on the directive from the Central government, the Kerala government had asked the management of private medical colleges in the state to admit these students.
However, on Monday, the Kerala Private Medical College Management Association decided not to allow students of SR Medical College, without citing any specific reason. Efforts to reach the authorities of the Association were unsuccessful.
Speaking to TNM, Sidharth's father Sreekumar said, âEarlier, three private medical colleges had agreed to accommodate the students. But now after the association meetings, they have retracted. It is a technique to give more time to the SR Medical College management to clear their issues. They do not realise that the future of students is at stake here.â
Withdrawal of Essentiality Certificate would effectively mean that the college cannot be run in the state. The aggrieved college can, however, approach the court against the decision of the state government to withdraw the EC granted to it.
According to Sreekumar, Kerala University of Health Sciences (KUHS) is also equally responsible for their plight. All medical colleges in the state come under KUHS. He alleged that the University's counsel had tried to manipulate the issue. âAt the negotiation meetings, the advocate had tried to manipulate the issue by claiming that students are protesting in the college for no reason,â he said.
He said that they will once again approach the court and that it is the government's responsibility to take care of the studentsâ education.
Sunita, told TNM that it is now the government's responsibility to shift them. We have invested our three years in this college. There are no decisions on refunding the fees we paid, too. The government should immediately take necessary steps to shift us to other colleges,â she said.