The Supreme Court’s recent observation that the state of medical education in the country is “rotten,” and its direction to the Centre and the Medical Council of India to take remedial measures to curb growing commercialization in the sector, is well thought out and appropriate.
Coming close on the heels of the appointment of a high-powered committee headed by former chief justice of India R.M. Lodha, to clean up the medical education sector which has been plagued by corruption and profiteering, this is one more progressive step by the apex court on an issue that deserved action on a war footing.
If there is anything that can be said now it is that the apex court should have grappled with the issue earlier, when the rot was setting in. The fine of Rs 5 crore imposed on an Orissa-based private medical college, the Kalinga Institute of Medical Sciences, for illegally increasing the number of seats from 100 to 150 in an academic year, putting the future of students in jeopardy, may be paltry but it could act as a strong deterrent if the authorities follow this up with greater watchfulness and stricter checks on arbitrary use of authority to make loads of money at the cost of medical educational standards. Surely, Kalinga cannot be the lone defaulter in this and other aspects. The importance of the punitive action lies in the deterrence it creates which would be nullified if other violators are allowed to defy norms and rules set to regulate the sector.
It is indeed most unfortunate that the education sector, especially the professional education sector, has come to be associated with gross unscrupulousness. What was once identified with a missionary zeal is today looked upon with avarice and greed, far divorced from the lofty principles on which its foundations were first laid. It goes without saying that politicians of all hues and businessmen imbued with ulterior motives have jumped into this sector, vitiating the atmosphere, lowering professional standards and compromising the ethics of the noble profession. Inevitably then, this is reflected in the quality of doctors many of our medical colleges produce which has its effect on health care in the country.
That institutions set up to act as watchdogs like the MCI have themselves got into the act of muddying the waters is the ultimate shame of our higher educational system that is in such a shocking state today. The apex court made no bones of its disenchantment with the MCI, averring that it had failed to regulate and improve the quality of medical education. It called upon the concerned ministries at the Centre to play a more proactive role in ensuring that medical colleges have all the necessary facilities, clinical material and teaching staff to do justice to the task at hand.
In October last, the Supreme Court had exhorted the central government and all states to make sure that super-speciality medical courses are kept “unreserved, open and free,” following complaints that some states were allowing only domiciled MBBS doctors to appear for entrance examinations. The court held that national interest requires doing away with all forms of reservation in institutions of higher education, and urged the Centre to take effective steps “objectively”. It should come as no surprise if the advice fell on deaf ears considering that reservations are the springboard on which electoral politics is played and no party has the guts to say that it is opposed to quotas.
In these times of vote bank politics it appears inconceivable that the central and state governments would heed the sane advice of the apex court to do away with quotas at least in super-speciality medical courses. The Supreme Court bench had cited the case of Dr Pradeep Jain versus the Union of India and others. In this case, the apex court in 1984 had said merit should be the sole criterion when it came to super-speciality medical courses. But the government has not framed any rules or guidelines to implement the directive in all these years, the judges said.
Based on some observations of the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, a section of the BJP had floated a trial balloon on the issue of doing away with some reservations but the party quickly retraced its steps when it found that it would hit it hard in the Bihar assembly elections. That despite its turnaround the Bihar voter punished the party for even considering a review of the reservations policy is an index of how tough it is to chart a fresh course on this issue.
The Supreme Court’s lament that “privilege remains unchanged” even after 68 years of independence and that national interest requires doing away with all forms of reservation in institutions of higher education is being ignored completely. Even if the time is not ripe for a review of the reservations policy, the apex court’s advice on streamlining medical education must be heeded strongly in national interest.