| The protesting medical students on Monday. Picture by Amit Datta
A faculty for 69. Caught in a bind as the hunger strike by the ousted medical students entered its sixth day, that was what chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee conjured up on Monday.
The general diagnosis is that the chief minister's grand proposal will only add to the confusion over the see-saw battle for seats.
Students of the SSKM institute and Midnapore Medical College went on hunger strike after the Supreme Court on December 13 cancelled the admission of 69 students taken in under the non-resident Indian (NRI) quota.
'We've asked the University of Technology, under the higher education department, to explore the possibility of opening a new faculty related to medicine. They've told us it can be done. We will accommodate these students there,' Bhattacharjee said.
The Medical Council of India, whose endorsement is essential to run a full-fledged medical institution, chose to reserve comment. 'It is not very clear what they (the government) mean by a new medical faculty,' said Ashok Choudhury, president of the state medical council.
Striking students at SSKM on Monday resolved to fast unto death if the government did not take up their case. A number of parents, too, threatened to join their children.
Admitting that the students were averse to taking admission in the proposed faculty, the chief minister said: 'They've told us they can't even think of such an alternative. I understand their current mindset' But our hands are tied. We cannot go against the Supreme Court order.'
Bhattacharjee laid out two options before the fasting students: 'Give up studies or take up the proposed medicine-related course.' Stating that his government had no alternative, he said: 'The ball is not in my court. We will have to persuade them to accept this.'
He, however, declined to elaborate on the proposal, saying the university council would take two days to finalise it.
Health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra said he would provide the answers in the Assembly on Wednesday.
Asked whether the students would get a doctor's degree at the end of the proposed course, Bhattacharjee remained mum.
Maintaining that his government had done nothing wrong in admitting students under the NRI quota in under-graduate courses, the chief minister said: 'We went by legal provisions and acted after seeking advice from legal experts. But, the Supreme Court didn't agree with our logic and served us a contempt notice.'
The state government will move a larger bench of the apex court against the judgment, he added.
Health department officials on Monday reportedly suggested to the fasting students that they take up courses related to biotechnology and engineering.
Turning down the offer, the students said they were pinning their hopes on a meeting with the President. Rashtrapati Bhavan, they added, had not turned down their plea for talks, though it was yet to set a date.