The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the operation of an ordinance promulgated by the Kerala government in October to legalise the admission of 180 medical students. The court also told the government to expel the students, 150 students from Kannur Medical College and 30 from Karuna Medical College in Palakkad.

In October, the apex court had cancelled the admission of the 180 students, admitted in 2016-’17, after the State Admission Supervisory Committee for Professional Colleges reported “discrepancies in the admission process”. To override the judgement, the government brought an ordinance, but it was challenged by the Medical Council of India. Thursday’s order came on the council’s appeal.

Since an ordinance is effective for only six months, the ruling Left Democratic Front, opposition United Democratic Front and the lone Bharatiya Janata Party legislator on Wednesday joined hands to pass a bill regularising the admissions. Only Congress legislators VT Balram and PT Thomas dissented when the Kerala Professional Colleges (Regularisation of Admission in Medical Colleges) Bill, 2018, which was meant to replace the ordinance, was tabled in the Assembly. They questioned whether the Assembly had the Constitutional sanction to enact legislation that would annul the apex court’s order cancelling the admission.

The government, however, maintained that the bill was a humanitarian intervention “to save the academic life of innocent students”, who are being penalised for the errors of the colleges’ managements.

But the urgency with which the government and the Opposition came together to pass the bill raised allegations of corruption. Senior Congress leader VM Sudheeran fired the first salvo on Thursday, saying his party should not have supported the government’s “corrupt move”. “I do not understand why the Congress and other members of the United Democratic Front supported such a corrupt move,” he said. “It is an unpardonable mistake. It would give rise to allegations that there existed an unholy alliance between the government and the opposition.”

But the leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala rejected Sudheeran’s suggestion. “We never supported the mischievous practices of the managements of private colleges,” he said. “We backed the bill to save the lives of hapless students.”

Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy of the Congress echoed this view. “Congress didn’t commit any mistake in supporting the bill,” he said. “Our aim was to end the misery of the students.”

‘Who will help us?’

Not many people are convinced, though. On social media, the government has been drawing flak for ostensibly supporting the two private colleges despite its own Competent Authority, set up to look into the admission process, finding that they had collected capitation fees from the students. The authority, however, had recommended that admission of 44 students at Kannur Medical College and 25 at Karuna Medical College who had qualified the National Eligibility cum Entrance test should be regularised. Many social media users have pointed out that the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its youth and students’ wings have in the past organised protests against private educational institutions for indulging in suspect practices.

Responding to the criticism, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan insisted that the bill was meant to “save the future of students”. “The government does not want to lock horns with the Supreme Court,” he added.

Health Minister KK Shailaja, however, claimed that the Supreme Court’s order was not a setback for the government. “We stepped in to support students when the managements cheated them,” she said.

The bill has already been sent to Governor P Sathasivam for approval, but constitutional experts felt he would not sign it in the wake of the Supreme Court’s order. “It is unlikely the governor would approve the bill,” Kaleeswaram Raj, a senior advocate, told a Malayalam TV news channel.

The affected students at Kannur Medical College, meanwhile, face an “uncertain future”. “We lost two crucial years in the legal melee,” said Sadir, one of the students. “Who will help us? We are paying the price for the fraud committed by the management. I don’t know how to face this situation.”

Fellow student Jasim rued that they are the “only losers in this game”. “How can we make up for this huge loss?” he asked. “The government and the college management are safe. We end up being the losers.”