Most students from India having been brought back in a Herculean and laudable effort by the Government of India, Operation Ganga is on the verge of being wound up.
While the nation has heaved a collective sigh of relief, their return has thrown up many questions which require a hard look.
Extrication of students from the war striven Ukraine under the most challenging circumstances was an undeniable obligation which has been admirably fulfilled by the Government.
A question which really requires a harder look and some introspection is, why, in the first place, our students need to go to other countries, especially where the standards of medical education are suspect, as is underscored by the dismal pass percentage of these students who need to pass the examination for foreign medical graduates, to be licensed to practice Medicine in India.
However, a big question that begs immediate attention is how their medical education, which for all practical purposes is irretrievably interrupted, would be completed.
In the backdrop of the ongoing Ukraine Russia conflict, a PIL has already been filed before the Supreme Court of India seeking directions to accommodate the MBBS students returning from Ukraine in Indian medical colleges by amending the rules as a one-time measure.
A very small subset of students is likely to be benefited by a recent order by the National Medical Commission (NMC) that those foreign medical graduates who were doing internship but could not complete it because of extraordinary circumstances like the COVID pandemic or war would be permitted to complete that in India.
The State Medical Councils have been asked to process such applications provided that the students have cleared the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination (FMGE) held by the NMC.
However, the Commission has not taken any decision on the fate of the students who were at various stages of their 5-year course in Ukraine. The reason is not difficult to understand.
After completion of the MBBS course, internship training in another hospital back home can still be imparted and completed despite interruption.
But NMC being the watchdog body for medical education is obligated to maintain uniform standards of medical education across all medical colleges recognised by it.
This is where it would find itself in a very difficult situation because MBBS training in these European countries is below par as is obvious from the dismal 16 percent pass percentage of these students who take FMGE.
Secondly, accommodating upwards of 20,000 students to an already over burgeoning pool of 400,000 students who are undergoing MBBS training in various medical colleges in India is likely to severely stretch the infrastructure and the system alike.
Importantly, 85 percent of the seats in the states are reserved for the students who have the domicile of that particular state.
The returning students would not be supporting ‘sons of the soil’ tag.
Some state governments though, are talking about rehabilitating these students under some scheme or the other, but the idea is not only nascent, it is nebulous because the details are yet to be worked out.
For example, in what would appear a respite for medical students returning from war-torn Ukraine to Maharashtra, the state government is planning to allow them to continue their education in medical colleges in the state under the student exchange programme.
This according to the government, will ensure that their education is not interrupted till the time normalcy is restored in Ukraine which again is in the realms of uncertainty.
It is highly unlikely that after facing the vagaries of war, scarring them for life, these students would return to Ukraine, if and when some semblance of normalcy returns, not only because of fear of impending war but because of doubts on the restoration of teaching infrastructure there.
The bottom line remains, that the rehabilitation of these students has thrown a challenge which would necessarily have to be met with by making necessary arrangements for training these students to bring them en par with the current standards as stipulated by NMC and then making them join the mainstream.
This may require amending the laws as a one-time exception, keeping in mind the human tragedy of such mammoth scale.