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Berth pangs rock medical study muddle

For students who could manage no better than a low-rung rank in the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for medical college berths, the wait to know whether they can study to become doctors is turning out to be agonising.

Had it been any other year, they would have been preparing for admission to the city’s four — and the state’s seven — medical colleges by now, a day after the first round of counselling ended on Wednesday.

But this JEE season, unlike any other, has been fraught with confusion, with the state government initially announcing capitation-fee seats but later saying it depended on a Medical Council of India nod for more medical seats. And this confusion has been passed down the line to a section of this year’s successful JEE candidates.

Take Subhadeep Basak, a student from Kharagpur, who came to Calcutta to enrol in a medical college on Wednesday. Basak ranked 635 in this year’s JEE for medical aspirants.

He did not seek re-admission in a Midnapore college after passing his Indian School Certificate examination last year because he was confident of securing a berth in one of the state’s seven medical colleges.

Basak cannot be blamed. Last year, the last student from the general category to gain admission to a medical college after the first round of counselling was ranked 665. By the end of the counselling session on Wednesday — marred by student protest and police lathicharge — Basak had learnt exactly how different things were, this time round. The roll of the JEE dice stopped at 611 by the time the counselling came to a close, and that included, unlike last year, even the seats in dental colleges.

No health department official would clarify why the rest of the seats — mostly belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SC) category — had been kept vacant. At a glance, six of the seven medical colleges did not admit two SC candidates each and the other — Medical College and Hospital — three. Very few Scheduled Tribes candidates were found eligible, officials said, but the vacant seats, unlike last year, did not accommodate general-category students after Wednesday’s counselling.

State health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra, however, allayed fears that the seats kept vacant would be filled by students whose parents could pay a price. “Not one of the 905 seats will accommodate a student entering a medical college after paying capitation fees,” he told Metro.

But several students’ organisations, including the All-Bengal Medical Students’ Action Forum and even CPM-affiliate SFI, have raised a stink. The SFI even met Mishra at Writers’ Buildings. “We had to bear the brunt of the students’ and guardians’ wrath over the vacant seats, at the counselling centres,” an SFI medical local committee leader said.

The minister, however, promised that the seats would not be kept vacant “permanently”, and would be “filled up after the next round of counselling”.

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