The resignation of Syed Ali Shah Geelani from the Hurriyat Conference as its life-time chairman has brought the spotlight on the alleged sale of medical seats in Pakistan. In his letter dissociating himself from the Hurriyat Conference, Geelani accused its Muzaffarabad chapter of “open rebellion” and “financial irregularities”. “For the past some time, and specifically for the last two years, many complaints were received about this AJK chapter of APHC. Recently, after an investigation, some [members] were dismissed, and some more are under investigation… To circumvent the process of transparency and accountability, your representatives started non-cooperation with the Convenor,” Geelani said in his resignation letter. The investigation, Hurriyat sources say, was over an alleged sale of medical seats in Pakistan.
For over two decades, the Pakistan government has been reserving a special quota for the students of Jammu and Kashmir in all its professional courses, especially medical and engineering. The students also could take admission for higher education. Students from Jammu and Kashmir are broadly classified in two categories: a) those applying for admission under foreign student seats through the ministry of education, Pakistan, and b) the students applying for admission under the scholarship programme.
The students applying through foreign student seats have to pay the normal fee that any foreign student pays. But under the scholarship programme, the students are provided 100 per cent scholarship, free accommodation and per diem. The students, whose parents or close relatives have been killed by the security forces in Kashmir or have suffered “at the hands of Indian forces”, are given preference for seats under the scholarship programme.
Every year, around 50 students go to Pakistan under the scholarship programme for MBBS alone while a similar number of students get admission in other courses. The students are distributed in different colleges of Pakistan.
This year, the Pakistan government had announced 1,600 scholarships for Kashmiri students. This was disclosed in a meeting of Pakistan National Assembly’s Standing Committee for Federal Education and Professional Training. However, due to the pandemic and ban on international travel no student has been able to go to Pakistan this year so far.
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While there is a cut-off percentage for admission to various courses, the recommendation for the students under the scholarship programme is given by the separatist leaders. Over the years both factions of the separatist conglomerate Hurriyat Conference have been issuing recommendation letters to the students for admission in professional courses in Pakistan. However, the Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani stopped issuing the recommendation letters two years ago after allegations of corruption surfaced.
Over the years, there have been allegations that some separatist leaders, especially in Pakistan, are demanding monetary benefits from the students before issuing them a recommendation letter and the basic criteria set by the Pakistan government is being flouted. There were allegations that even wards of some police officers have managed recommendation letters from the separatist leaders.
In 2019, another controversy surfaced when the National Board of Examination refused to allow a student to take foreign medical graduate examination/screening test, mandatory for any Indian who obtains a medical degree from a foreign country. The students had studied medicine in Mirpur in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, a part of undivided Kashmir claimed by India. The student approached the Jammu and Kashmir High Court that asked the Ministry of External Affairs to consider recognising the medical degree of the student. “There should be no dispute that the area known as PoK, where the medical college is situated is part of India though it is on the other side of LoC and is under the occupation and administrative control of Islamic republic of Pakistan,” ruled the court. “If that be the admitted position, a medical institution operating in the area can’t be expected to seek any recognition from the Medical Council of India (MCI)”.
The parents of Kashmiri students prefer medicine as a career for their wards, especially girls. As Kashmir has very few professional colleges, the students would move to foreign countries for studying medicine – first to Russia and now Bangladesh and Pakistan. While the courses in Pakistan are relatively cheap and better, the number of students going to Pakistan increased after Kashmiri students faced attacks in different parts of the country.