Rajya Sabha Passes National Medical Commission Bill
The Indian Parliament building in New Delhi (Photographer: Dilip Banerjee/Bloomberg News)

Rajya Sabha Passes National Medical Commission Bill

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The Rajya Sabha passed the National Medical Commission Bill for replacing the Medical Council of India with a new body, in what was described by the government as one of the biggest reforms for medical education in the country.

It was passed on a day when doctors are on a countrywide strike against the proposed legislation.

The bill that seeks to repeal the Indian Medical Council Act 1956 was approved by a voice vote in the Upper House, amid a walkout by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The bill will now go to the Lok Sabha again as two amendments need to be approved by it.

The Lower House had already passed the National Medical Commission Bill 2019. In his reply, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said “in no way the bill intends to promote quackery” as apprehended by a few members and added National Eligibility cum Entrance Test is already an institutionalised body which is conducting examinations in 13 languages.

He said quacks are not being promoted and the legislation has strong provisions against wrong practices that include one year imprisonment and Rs 5 lakh fine as against a nominal fine by the MCI.

“Once the NMC Bill is approved, exit examination will be implemented in the next three years,” the Minister said.

He said 40,000 of the total 80,000 of MBBS seats are under government institutions and there will be a cap on fees too.

“The 40,000 seats under government has nominal fee...MCI had no provision for regulating fee or cap for private sector but now 50 percent of the 40,000 seats with private colleges will be regulated with cap,” he said.

The Minister said state governments can regulate the remaining 50 percent seats.

He added: “MPs said the representation of states is less in the NMC. Of the 25 members of the council, 11 are state representatives,” he said.

He said, “Syllabus takes into consideration the syllabus of various boards", adding National Eligibility cum Entrance Test Counselling is completely transparent. He also thanked senior Congress leader Ghulab Nabi Azad for his valuable suggestions and said that the good ideas of the previous government have been implemented.”

Harsh Vardhan said: “National Medical Commission Bill is a major reform and is scripting a new history for medical education.”

Also read: Opposition Parties Write To Rajya Sabha Chairman Over Passing Of Bills Without Scrutiny

The bill also has a provision for making national standards in medical education uniform by proposing that the final year MBBS exam be treated as an entrance test for PG and a screening test for students who graduate in medicine from foreign countries.

This exam, called the National Exit Test, would ensure that the proposed National Medical Commission moves away from a system of repeated inspections of infrastructure and focuses on outcomes rather than processes, Vardhan said.

Allaying doubts of MPs on the Bill, the Minister said that community health providers is a concept which has been adopted by even developed nations.

“Twenty one of the 25 members of the NMC are doctors and they will decide what will be the minimum qualification required to be a community health providers. This is a WHO-approved practice,” he said.

The bill was brought in the wake of allegations of corruption against the 63-year-old Medical Council of India and shortcomings in the process by which it regulated medical colleges. Vardhan said by bringing the bill, the basic intention of the government is to ensure and restore utmost standard of integrity in medical education.

Participating in the debate, DP Vats (BJP), who is a former director of Armed Forces Medical College, said that MCI inspections used to be a nightmare even for government colleges and had resulted in closure of good medical institutions.

AIADMK's Vijila Sathyananth said the medical entrance examination was a burning issue in her state Tamil Nadu. “Our children are forced to attempt the exam in the CBSE syllabus. Bring a common syllabus for whole India and then have a common entrance examination. So, we completely oppose, we reject the already institutionalised National Eligibility cum Entrance Test in our country,” she said.

Sathyananth said NEET and National Exit Test or NEXT should not be enforced in the country.

Sasmit Patra of the BJD proposed setting up of a National Medical Education Scholarship Fund to be operated by the Centre and states in conjunction to ensure that meritorious students are not deprived of their rightful share of attaining medical education.

In his maiden speech in the Rajya Sabha, Santanu Sen from All India Trinamool Congress said the entire medical fraternity was on roads since last two weeks to oppose the "draconian" Bill. He said the provisions of the Bill are such that it will lead to complete corporatisation of the medical education in the country. He demanded that the Bill be sent to a Select Committee.

Ram Nath Thakur of the JD(U) supported the Bill and said the number of medical colleges in the country should be increased so that more doctors can be produced. Manoj Kumar Jha of the JD(U) said lakhs of doctors are on strike against the Bill and their concerns should be looked into. He said the Bill will lead to brazen privatisation of medical education in the country.

Tiruchi Siva of the DMK claimed that the government initially attempted to encroach upon the powers of the states, and now it was taking away the powers of the states. He demanded that every state have a representation in the Commission. He stated that after introduction of NEET, students belonging to backward communities were not able to get admission in medical colleges, saying they cannot afford to pay the high fee charged for enrolment in coaching centres. Nominated member Narendra Jadhav supported the Bill.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad also strongly opposed the provision in the bill that aims to provide license to 3.5 lakh unqualified non-medical persons to practise modern medicine.

He said, “I strongly opposed this clause. You are replacing the earlier Cabinet decision of a three and a half year science course (for medical practitioners) by a mid level health professionals (like nurse, blood sample collector, compounder.”

Criticising the government,he said: “Are we making 70 percent of population Guinea pigs?”

Earlier the Congress as well as Samajwadi Party on urged the government to withdraw a provision in the Bill which aims to provide license to 3.5 lakh unqualified non-medical persons to practise modern medicine, saying it will "institutionalise quackery."

On the exit test, Azad asked, “If a students qualifies the EXIT test but does not come on merit for post graduation course then what would he do? Whether he would again appear for the test to qualify the entrance for PG course.”

He also expressed concerned over lower than expected rise in medical seats in the country despite some administrative decision taken by erstwhile UPA government.

KK Ragesh CPI (M) said education is in the concurrent list and this bill will take away the right of states for fixing fee and registration of medical colleges.

He said, “You are making the body as central government department...send it to select committee.” S K Gupta of AAP described it as undemocratic bill.

A Navaneethakrshnan (AIADMK) also strongly opposed the bill.

Sanjay Raut (SS), Ashok Siddharth (BSP), Gopal Narayan Singh (BJP) and K Keshava Rao (TRS) alsdo participated in the discussion on the bill.

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