The Supreme Court on Friday issued a notice on petitions filed by Indian students, who fled Ukraine after the Russian invasion in February, seeking to continue their medical education in Indian colleges, Live Law reported.

In March, the Indian government had evacuated a large number of students trapped in the Eastern European country.

A bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Vikram Nath was hearing a batch of seven pleas filed by Indian medical students.

The petitioners are seeking relief based on a report submitted by Lok Sabha Committee on External Affairs on August 3. The report said the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has recommended that Ukraine-returned medical students should be allowed to enrol in Indian private institutions as a one-time measure.

“Approximately 20,000 Indian students study in various universities in Ukraine, out of which 18,000 are medical students,” the report stated.

Relying on this report, the petitioners sought a decision from the Indian government and the National Medical Commission, Live Law reported.

“There are 20,000 students,” Justice Gupta said on Friday. “Does India have the capacity to accommodate these students? You are not meritorious students in India.”

Senior Advocate Ravi Sikri, appearing for one of the petitioners, stated that the students are not “less meritorious” and that they were compelled to take admission in Ukraine as they could not afford the medical fees of private colleges in India.

Sikri pointed out that these students had cleared the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (a pre-medical entrance exam) but did not qualify due to the limited number of government seats in Indian colleges, reported Live Law.

“We are not going into the merit of the students,” Justice Gupta said. “The fact is you chose Ukraine, chose not to be in India. It was a voluntary act.”

Senior Advocate R Basant, representing a group of students from Kerala, said that the students cannot return to their universities in Ukraine due to the conflict there.

Basant said that the situation was an extraordinary one, and that the students had to leave their courses midway after having invested their money and time for medical education in Ukraine.

The bench then asked about the policies framed by the government for Indian students who could not complete their foreign education due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The bench was informed that students who completed their courses but could not pursue an internship in countries like China have been allowed to carry out the practice in India. However, in the case of Ukraine-returned students, not all of them are in the final year.

Basant submitted that the Centre should invoke Section 45 of the National Medical Commission Act, 2019, and grant relief to the Ukraine-returned students, Live Law reported.

“It is not that we are not qualified,” he argued. “If we had money, we could have gone into a private college here [in India].”

The bench then issued a notice on the petitions and sought a reply by September 5.