Malignant graft and dysfunction had left the Medical Council of India’s (MCI’s) case terminal a long time ago. A 2016 Parliamentary Standing committee report on the functioning of the MCI noted, “The situation has gone far beyond the point where incremental tweaking … can give the contemplated dividends. That is why the Committee is convinced that the MCI cannot be remedied…” To that extent, the government did well to shut it down and put a Board of Governors (BoG) in charge of regulation of medical education and practice in the country, through an ordinance. The BoG will function till Parliament passes the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill and creates a new regulatory ecosystem.
The MCI was indeed the “den of corruption” that the Delhi High Court had labelled it in 2001. But, the fact is that, for too long, both this government and its predecessor have dragged their feet on a lasting cure. The allegations of graft being near-systemic at MCI, with former president Ketan Desai at its centre, have been around since the late 1990s. After Desai was arrested for corruption in April 2010, in May, the UPA government promulgated an ordinance to put in place a BoG to supersede the MCI for one year. Through subsequent amendments to a law enacted by Parliament in July 2010, the BoG’s term was extended till May 2013. Meanwhile, the UPA government introduced the National Commission for Human Resources for Health Bill, 2011, but that was retracted due to opposition. The council was reconstituted in 2013 after fresh elections; while Desai had initially been renominated by Gujarat, he resigned after sustained pressure from all quarters. But, the fact that the MCI structure allowed this in the first place, and Desai could exert such clout, should have been a strong warning for overhaul. It is unfortunate, thus, that the present government didn’t move earlier. In May 2016, the Supreme Court had set up a three-member oversight committee headed by former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha to guide the MCI in its functioning, with a tenure of one year. The Lodha oversight committee, at the end of its term, submitted a scathing report detailing how the MCI flagrantly defied the oversight committee’s directives. Despite this, instead of moving to scrap the MCI, the Centre, in July 2017, proposed the setting up a new oversight committee to the SC. It was the summary resignation of this second committee earlier this month, over MCI’s blatant disregard of its directives, that forced the government’s hand.
The government must now move urgently on bringing the NMC—the Bill that proposes creation of four separate, autonomous regulators for medical education and practice, has been hanging fire for over a year. To be sure, there is some criticism of the Bill in its current form despite amendments to accommodate some of the criticism—especially over its “bridge course” and medical college fee-regulation proposals. The government must address these. But, the critics saying that NMC will replace an elected body with one whose members are primarily nominated by the government forget that the elected regulator did more harm than good.