A new regulator, the National Medical Commission (NMC), is proposed to replace the 63-year-old Medical Council of India — labelled as corrupt by no less than the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health. The Bill hints at sweeping reforms — ending the annual permission for new colleges, a national ranking system, reducing the burden of entrance tests, uniform national standards of medical education and creating a mid-level health cadre with limited rights to prescribe drugs. The eye-catcher is the cap on fees in 50 per cent of MBBS and PG seats in private medical colleges and deemed universities. While it ensures merit-based admission for half the student strength at state-regulated fee, does it also not permit preference to low scorers just because they can pay the high fee asked for?
Several concerns have been raised since the draft NMC Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2017, and the new version does address a few, like omission of the contentious provision of a ‘bridge course’ to allow practitioners of alternative medicines to pursue allopathy. If doing away with renewal checks is aimed at ending corruption, have enough safeguards been put in place to ensure that private colleges desist from manipulation during self-certification? Another area that needs careful consideration is giving overarching powers to the NMC. Will it mean that the Centre takes complete control of all medical education institutions? The government also has a lot of convincing to do on the perception that the proposed legislation, while not disregarding some carefully crafted and forward-looking reforms, could make medical education more expensive and out of reach.
The Tribune has been highlighting how in Punjab, medical colleges which charge a high fee are seeing candidates with much lower NEET scores getting admission in MBBS, at the cost of meritorious students who are not in a position to afford this course. For any parent or medical aspirant, quality education within reasonable means remains the ultimate goal. If the NMC Bill falls short, it needs wider debate and discussion. Why the rush to carry it through?
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