Chennai, May 18: The standoff between striking medical college students and the state government over permitting private medical colleges in Tamil Nadu is getting worse.
Authorities have suspended nearly 5,000 students from 11 government medical colleges and appointed 3,200 new doctors to avert a collapse of the public health system. Many government doctors who have backed the students’ agitation face “punishment transfers”.
Health minister S. Semmalai’s handling of the crisis has attracted criticism from the Opposition. They said the minister has restricted himself to issuing ultimatums to students and doctors when his priority should have been the health system.
This is the first time that medical students have been suspended en masse in the state.
The suspension follows the government’s statement that it had no role in granting permission to private medical colleges.
About 1,100 first-year MBBS students are slated to appear for semester examinations in the first week of June. The director of medical education, C. Ravindranath, has said the students will be allowed to appear for the examinations only if their parents give “written declarations to the respective medical college deans by Monday” saying their children have given up the strike.
Doctors who observed a one-day token strike on May 14 in support of the students’ demands have now decided to go on an indefinite strike from Wednesday.
District collectors have been authorised to recruit doctors on an emergency basis. They may turn to employment exchanges to cope with the situation.
The Jayalalithaa government plans to enlist the services of nearly 3,200 doctors on a contractual basis for a consolidated monthly pay of Rs 8,000, sources said. These doctors will be pressed into service in all 29 districts as well as the general and peripheral hospitals in Chennai.
Last week, hundreds of surgeries scheduled in government hospitals could not be performed. Some serious accident cases saw victims dying for lack of medical attention.
DMK chief M. Karunanidhi criticised the government’s “callous handling of such a sensitive issue”. He urged Jayalalithaa not to resort to “one vindictive step after another” such as threatening not to issue hall tickets to first-year undergraduate students appearing for their examinations.