Union Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, has criticised the Medical Council of India (MCI) for taking an adversarial stand on students while cancelling seats in medical colleges.
This has led to the loss of 1,170 medical seats in the 2014-15 academic year, thereby nipping in the bud the dreams of many meritorious candidates.
In his reaction to the Supreme Court's Order of July 31 quashing the Ministry's plea for modification of the time schedule for granting approvals to new colleges and renewal of permission to existing seats in old colleges.
Dr Harsh Vardhan said, "Instead of supporting our plea in court, I am surprised the MCI opposed it. This makes me wonder whose side are they on."
There were applications to raise the existing number of seats because of new medical colleges being opened and existing ones adding seats. Eventually 2,750 were approved. But, on the other hand, the applications for 3,920 seats for fresh renewal were struck down for their failure to meet MCI's requirements. The net deficit, therefore, is 1,170. Of the 46 colleges affected, 41 are privately owned.
"For years it was an open secret that MCI was looking the other way as medical colleges rampantly flouted regulations. Suddenly, this year they have struck. But why are they not punishing the managements?" Dr Harsh Vardhan said.
"The students have been punished. For most of those affected the dream of becoming a doctor has evaporated as they would be forced by circumstances to pursue studies in other disciplines. On the other hand the managements can rectify the problems by next year. This to me is inhuman," the Health Minister remarked.
He said he had received numerous delegations of students, doctors, institution managements, members of parliament and other stakeholders complaining of MCI's attitude. At one point –early June – more than 10,000 seats were in jeopardy, but owing to the Ministry's persistent advocacy, the MCI was forced to climb down.
The best solution, keeping in mind the national interest, would have been to admit the students and then pressuring the college's managements to implement the necessary steps, the Minister stated.
However, the Minister regretted, "MCI took a bureaucratic attitude and did not reveal an awareness that it was dealing with young lives." He pointed out that most of the "deficiencies" in the MCI's reports were about problems with air-conditioning, or about the thickness of the partition walls in buildings and, of course, the shortage of faculty which is an old irritant. In some cases, permission was cancelled only because the libraries did not have sufficient number of journals –which is irrelevant in the age of e-magazines.
But even though most of the colleges have complied with the MCI's demands, there was no acknowledgement. "MCI's officials took the shocking stand that they did not have time to go through the compliance statements," the Minister said.
The Ministry had referred 150 cases, most of them government colleges, for review to MCI but there was no response. Finally it filed an interlocutory application IA) in the Priya Gupta vs Chhatisgarh case seeking extension of the date for whetting the compliance reports filed by colleges. Naturally the Court sought the MCI's opinion on this at the first hearing of the IA on July 24. But MCI did not support this and sought time. On July 31 too, it did not take a favourable stance. That led to the Apex Court dismissing the Ministry's application which sought to protect the students' interest.
"Effectively MCI did not keep the sentiment of students in mind. It wanted to punish students instead of the college managements. I had personally requested the MCI President to think of the fate of the student instead of placing a premium on the frivolous deficiencies of the colleges. But it had no impact on her," Dr Harsh Vardhan added.