Mumbai: The Bombay High Court bench of Justice Avinash Gharote at the Nagpur seat on Friday said even during the pandemic life cannot stop and has to go on. The bench made the observation while hearing a plea filed by a student seeking to stay the offline exams of undergraduate students of the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS) in view of COVID-19 pandemic.
The judge further questioned that if to-be doctors are scared of COVID-19 virus how can they treat patients in future.
The single-judge bench of Justice Gharote was seized with a PIL filed by a physiotherapy student Shweta Burbure through advocate Rahul Bhangde seeking to stay the exams of health science courses beginning from June 10.
Bhangde told the bench that around 40,000 students across Maharashtra would appear for the offline exams, which is risky. "We cannot afford a congregation of students. The second wave has been lethal and the third wave is expected to be worst. We cannot risk the lives of these students at any cost," he submitted.
"Time and exams can be compensated but loss of lives can't. Already lakhs of people have died. Several students have died due to Covid. Now we have this Black Fungus thus we cannot let students appear physically. We shouldn't take the risk," Bhangde argued.
Advocate Abhijit Deshpande for the MUHS on the other hand pointed out that the university has taken all precuations. "We have a Suraksha Kavach Yojana, a scheme for students as well as for staff. If anyone dies of Covid pursuant to the offline exams his family will be paid Rs 3 lakh," Deshpande said.
The advocate further told the judge that all undergraduate students were aware since October 2020 that their exams will be held offline. He also said that the university has already conducted two phases of exams since November last year.
"No student objected to this despite the fact that we postponed the exams at least three times. Suddenly they have come and want the exams to be stayed," he pointed out, adding, "These are the students who will become doctors in the future. They can't be scared of the virus."
Deshpande further pointed out that the students aren't being compelled to appear for the offline exams and they are given an option to choose not to sit for the papers now and give the supplementary exams later.
Bhangde contested that the first two phases of exams were of post graduate students, "who are basically doctors. They were frontliners and were given vaccines. But undergraduates aren't sworn-in as doctors yet," he argued.
At this, Justice Gharote said, "Mr Bhangde, it is the character of the human that binds and not the oath."
"The doctor's profession is a noble profession to save lives. If a student is afraid of infecting how would s/he treat the patients? When a doctor looses courage how will he treat patients?" Justice Gharote observed.
However, Bhangde pointed out that it is the duty of the Court's to protect the students' lives and thus should stay the exams in view of the serious threat of COVID-19.
"Do you (Bhangde) mean that we should bring everything to a standstill? Life is full of uncertainty and it just cannot stop it has to go on," Justice Gharote responded.
At this juncture, Bhangde urged the bench to at least make vaccination mandatory for all these students and only then let them appear for the exams.
However, the judge said that the nation is already facing difficulties to vaccinate the citizens above the age of 45 owing to the paucity of vaccines and thus the request isn't reasonable.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government pointed out that it is for the Union government to take a final decision on inoculating these students. It said that the Union has allowed vaccinating on priority the students, who are going abroad for their further studies.
The bench has closed the matter for orders and is expected to pronounce its verdict on Saturday morning.