A single judge of the Madras High Court has taken a view that MBBS students admitted under the State government quota in Employees State Insurance Corporation-run-medical colleges cannot be forced to give undertakings that they would serve the corporation for five years after completion of the course or pay ₹7.5 lakh with 15% interest per annum.

Justice R. Subramanian, however, referred the issue to a larger Bench since another single judge of the court had taken a contrary view on the same subject in a case filed by another student last year. The judge directed the High Court Registry to place the case papers before Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi for an authoritative pronouncement on the issue.

The orders were passed on a batch of writ petitions from 13 doctors who were allotted MBBS seats under the State quota in ESIC Medical College at K.K. Nagar in 2013-14. During admission, the petitioners and their parents/guardians were reportedly forced to sign bonds agreeing to serve ESIC institutions across the country for five years after the completion of the course.

Claiming that they had no choice but to sign the bonds despite having been allotted to the ESIC college on merit, the petitioners challenged the appointment orders issued to them for serving in hospitals run by the corporation in different parts of the country. They urged the court to forbear the corporation from enforcing the bonds executed seven years ago.

Petitioners’ counsel S. Haja Mohideen Gisthi brought it to the notice of the court that only postgraduate students were required to sign such bonds, that too for a period of two years, by some State governments. No other institution in the country insists upon undergraduate students to sign bonds, thereby jeopardising the chances of the doctors to pursue higher education. He said all the petitioners were interested in pursuing postgraduate courses and they had also appeared for the NEET.

Advocate V.P. Raman, representing the Medical Council of India, supported the case of the petitioners and told the court that ESIC, despite being a self-financing institution, had no right to demand bonds from MBBS students.

However, ESIC counsel TNC Kaushik said the requirement regarding bond was clearly mentioned in the prospectus and so the petitioners could not go back on their word after having signed the bonds. He also said another judge of the High Court had dismissed a similar case last year on the ground that what applies to postgraduate courses would equally apply to undergraduate courses too.

Not in agreement with such submissions, Justice Subramanian said, it would be a violation of Article 14 (Right to equality) of the Constitution to discriminate between meritorious students who had been allotted seats under the State quota in different colleges. He pointed out that the requirement of bond in ESIC colleges was not part of the guidelines issued by Directorate of Medical Education during admissions.

When students admitted in State government-run-colleges were not required to sign bonds, how could a different yardstick be applied to those admitted in ESIC colleges, he wondered. It was also pointed out that ESIC does not give any fee concession to its students who had to pay ₹26,000 a year as against an average of ₹13,610 collected by State government-run-medical colleges.

The judge also took note of the fact that ESIC does not provide free medical care and that it runs hospitals only for its subscribers. He said the other single judge of the High Court had taken a contrary view by following a Supreme Court judgement delivered in a case related to bonds that had been insisted from postgraduate students and not undergraduate students.

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