The health ministry’s decision to retain doctors in the country to avoid ‘brain drain’ has left many complaining. Forced to return from the United States to India, and jobless, a biomedical researcher has filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court protesting against the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s (MoHFW) recent decision to stop issuing No Obligation to Return to India (NORI) certificates to MBBS graduates wishing to work abroad.
Scientist Sunil Nooti (39) had worked with the University of Kentucky’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics since 2013. On December 28, 2015, he was forced to return to India after the Union ministry rejected his NORI application claiming he was an MBBS graduate and therefore a doctor.
“I completed MBBS in 2002 but never did clinical practice. Even now I am looking for research jobs because I can’t practise,” Nooti said. In the last six months, apart from visiting the human resource development and health ministries, he has approached several research organisations in Delhi and Mumbai for a job.
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To plug the skewed doctor-patient ratio in the country, the health ministry has since August 2013 stopped issuing NORI certificates to doctors except those above 65 years of age. While medical students are permitted to study abroad, stopping NORI certificate will force them to return after their course and practise in India.
According to Nooti, eight of his Indian colleagues working in the US got NORI certificates during the same time he moved his application. “They work in the departments of chemistry and engineering. It is silly to deny me NORI certificate even when I am not a practising doctor,” he claimed.
His requests on three dates — March 4, April 6 and May 23 this year — yielded a response that NORI was denied by both the HRD and the health ministries, based on “extant policy guidelines” framed by the Union health ministry.
Nooti had moved to the US in 2011 to pursue post-doctoral courses in physiology and biophysics. He later joined Kentucky University as a post-doctoral scholar in 2013. From 2011, he lived on J1 visa, which expired in five years.
According to advocate Rahul Totala, another petition has been filed by the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors before the Aurangabad bench against the government’s decision to ban NORI. “We are now going to club both petitions so that the case can be heard together,” said Totala. During the last hearing, the ministry stood by its decision. Interestingly, also mentioned in the writ petition is a letter sent by Nooti to PMO’s grievance redressal cell regarding the NORI issue, the reply to which came back on an entirely unrelated issue regarding pictorial warnings on cigarette packets.