National Medical Commission Bill: Time is right to end reliance on stop-gap medical watchdogs

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Published: June 15, 2019 12:12:06 AM

The NMC Bill, as was presented in Parliament, was not without points of concern, but it still was a radical change from the past—it was designed to bring in experts from non-medical domains that have intersections with healthcare regulation from a patient's point of view.

The MCI was reconstituted in 2013 after the BoG's term ended (Representational image)The MCI was reconstituted in 2013 after the BoG’s term ended (Representational image)

It is difficult to see why the government says in a recent press release that the Indian Medical Council Bill 2019 will “ensure transparency, accountability and quality in the governance of medical education in the country.” Were it indeed so, why should the Bill simply provide for the extended supersession of the Medical Council of India (MCI) by the Board of Governors (BoG) for a further two years, with effect retrospectively from September 26, 2018, and for increasing the board strength from 7 to 12? If the BoG is the solution, then surely it should be instituted to provide regulation to the healthcare and medical education sector permanently, instead of being given periodic extensions? To be sure, the government did well to shut down the MCI—the erstwhile regulator’s was a terminal case of graft malignancy, so much so that a Parliamentary Standing Committee noted that the “MCI cannot be remedied”—and replace it with the BoG via an ordinance. Yet, the BoG was never meant to be the end. Indeed, the government had proposed the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 29, 2017, and referred to a Standing Committee of Parliament on January 4, 2018. The Standing Committee presented its report in Parliament on March 20, 2018. More than a year after, the Bill is still hanging fire, and with the BoG’s term ending only in September 26, 2020, it would seem that the government believes that the NMC is unlikely to come any time before that.

The problems with the MCI have been known for a long time—it was labelled a “den of corruption” by the Delhi High Court in 2001 and the allegations of graft being in the body’s DNA, with its former president Ketan Desai at the centre of these allegations, have been around since the late 1990s. However, bumbling governments at the Centre, over the last couple of decades, have only relied on hackneyed stop-gap solutions instead of administering a curative. The UPA, after Desai’s arrest on graft related charges in April 2010, first promulgated an ordinance to put in place a BoG to supersede the MCI for a year, and later, in July 2010, enacted a law to extend the BoG’s term till May 2013. The MCI was reconstituted in 2013 after the BoG’s term ended, but that was marred by the fact that Desai managed a nomination to the Council from his home state, Gujarat; he later had to resign. In May 2016, the Supreme Court set up an oversight committee to guide the MCI, with a tenure of one year. At the end of its term, the committee submitted a scathing report on the deep rot in MCI and how it summarily defied the committee’s directives. In July 2017, the Centre insisted on a second oversight committee that resigned in protest, against the MCI ignoring its directives, before its term ended.

The NMC Bill, as was presented in Parliament, was not without points of concern, but it still was a radical change from the past—it was designed to bring in experts from non-medical domains that have intersections with healthcare regulation from a patient’s point of view. Yet, given the Standing Committee report was submitted a year ago, with a rich array of recommendations to correct the flaws in the Bill, the fact that NMC is nowhere on the horizon yet seems like allowing festering.

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