The state’s experiments with up-for-sale medical seats began on a violent note on Sunday, when the first-ever test for the million-rupee berths was marked by student protests, a lathicharge on doctors, arrests and threats of a 72-hour hungerstrike.
Although a majority of the 1,201 candidates turned up for the examination at Medical College and Hospital and Nilratan Sirkar Medical College and Hospital, the spotlight was firmly on those opposed to the seats-on-sale idea. Students who have booked a medical berth after clearing the far-more-competitive Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and their guardians laid siege on Medical College and Hospital. Joining in were present students and alumni of the medical colleges who claimed “merit alone” should be the means to medical studies.
Around 70 protesters, many of them belonging to the Medical Service Centre (MSC), the All-India Democratic Students’ Organisation and the Medical College Democratic Students’ Association, made their way to the exam centre, raising slogans against the government move.
The large police picket, posted on the college campus, launched a lathicharge as the demonstrators showed no signs of stopping short of the exam centre. In the melee that followed, more than a dozen protesters were injured. Order was restored after 10 of them, including MSC spokesperson and former Medical College students’ union general secretary Tarun Mandal, were arrested and herded into police vans.
At NRS Medical College and Hospital, the other exam centre, things hotted up around the same time. College students — none too happy with the seat-for-a-fee system — in the midst of preparations for their annual fest, found themselves locked out of their main auditorium because of the elaborate police bandobast.
As students threatened to break the police cordon and enter the auditorium, college superintendent Shyamal Rudra had to step in.
In response to Sunday’s police action, over 15 students of Medical College and Hospital threatened to go on a 72-hour fast from Monday morning. “We will launch another round of agitation if the government does not change its stance,” they warned.
Officials later said 1,156 of the 1,201 candidates took Sunday’s three-hour examination for the 70-odd seats.
Director of medical education Chittaranjan Maity, however, said that none of the 905 merit-only medical seats in the seven state-run medical colleges would admit these million-rupee students. “If the Medical Council of India does not give us permission for more seats, there won’t be any special-fee course at all,” he clarified.