Turmoil in academia
On May 13 when the term of the body of governors of the Medical Council of India (MCI) expires, it seems there would be no one at the helm of medical education in the country. The Union health ministry is still undecided on who should take charge of MCI.
The council was dissolved in 2010 following a series of corruption charges against its president and members. The body of governors was given the charge of MCI for a year through an ordinance till the ministry found a solution. But in 2011 the ministry extended the arrangement by another year. It would not be able to resort to another ordinance this year as the tenure of the body of governors will expire at a time when Parliament would be in session. So the ministry is pushing the National Commission for Human Resources for Health (NCHRH) Bill through Parliament. The bill, under review of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, is seen as a permanent solution.
“What happens after May 13 has not been decided yet,” says Keshav Desiraju, additional secretary of the health ministry. “It all depends on the comments we get from the standing committee.”
Proposed by the health ministry in 2010, the bill talks of setting up NCHRH, an overarching body, that would take over MCI and the councils for pharmacy, dentistry and nursing, and split their work under new bodies (see infographic below). The job of the councils would be reduced to maintaining a live registry of professionals and ensuring that they follow medical ethics. NCHRH will have a chairperson and 12 members with ultimate decision-making powers.
Health experts say the bill will bring more evil than good. Summing the discussions by state medical councils in February in New Delhi, Delhi Medical Council president A K Agarwal says the state councils unanimously oppose the bill. “If the bill is passed in its present form, there would be bureaucratic intervention. State institutions that are now run by professionals will lose autonomy.” Unlike the councils that have a democratic setup with elected representatives from states and medical universities and practicing doctors, members of NCHRH will be appointed by the Centre. “The decisions taken by the body will be just by a few members at the top, on the direction of the Centre,” says K M Shyamprasad, former vice-president of the National Board of Examinations of the health ministry.
The bill has another flaw. It does not include the Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM) that governs AYUSH (ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy).
As per WHO, AYUSH caters to 65 per cent of the healthcare need in rural India.
“If all other councils are to be regulated by a single authority, why not CCIM?” asks Shyamprasad.
CCIM members are, however, glad to be left out. Vaidya Raghunandan Sharma, president of CCIM, says, “Exclusion from the bill is not going to affect CCIM or its institutions.” The function of NCHRH will not be different from that of the councils, says Desiraju. Only their responsibility and work will be split to leave them with limited powers. “MCI got mired in corruption because it had extraordinary powers and no accountability. The reform is long pending,” he adds. Desiraju is confident that the bill will sail through.
Jyoti Mirdha, member of the standing committee, says there is no need to replace the elected councils with a nominated body. To plug the loopholes, the government can fix the term of the council presidents and add a provision which gives the health ministry the power to take things in its control when needed. There can be a separate regulatory body over the councils, but that should not disturb the present structure and functioning, she adds.