Rajya Sabha today passed the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill for replacing the corruption-plagued Medical Council of India (MCI) with a new body, in what was described by the government as one of the biggest reforms for medical education in the country. The Bill, which, has already been passed by the Lok Sabha, was moved by Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan for passage in the Upper House today despite stiff protest from the medical fraternity who fear it would lead to deterioration of medical education and degradation of healthcare services. The Bill that seeks to repeal the Indian Medical Council Act 1956 was passed by a voice vote, amid a walkout by AIADMK.
The Congress and Samajwadi Party urged the government to withdraw a provision in the NMC Bill that aims to provide license to 3.5 lakh unqualified non-medical persons to practise modern medicine, saying it will "institutionalise quackery."
Representation of states
While initiating a debate in the Rajya Sabha, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said the current representation of members in the NMC is against the interest of states. Currently, the Bill provides for representation of 14 members each from the Centre, six members from states and five to be elected from medical background.
With this kind of representation, southern states like Telangana and Andhra Pradesh will get an opportunity once in12 years, he said, and suggested the government increase state representation to 15 at least in the commission.
"This Bill sets up the National Medical Commission (NMC). Within three years of the passage of the Bill, state governments will establish State Medical Councils. The NMC will consist of 25 members, appointed by the Centre," the Health Minister said in Lok Sabha.
The Bill proposes a common final-year MBBS examination, known as National Exit Test (NEXT), for admission to post-graduate medical courses and for obtaining a license to practise medicine.
Besides this, the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), common counselling and NEXT would be applicable to institutes of national importance like AIIMS in order to achieve a common standard in medical education in the country.
Mr Ramesh demanded the government to amend a clause to ensure the NMC regulates fee for up to 75 per cent seats in private medical colleges and deemed universities instead of 50 per cent seats proposed in the Bill.
"This provision will open floodgates to privatisation in medical education. I believe in privatisation. But I do not believe in privatisation in medical education," he said, and urged members irrespective of political party affiliation to support his amendments.
Noting that the intent of the Bill is noble but the content is dangerous, Mr Ramesh said, "Let us focus on content" and urged members irrespective of party affiliation to support this amendments.
"There are 76,000 MBBS seats in the country, out of which 40,000 in government colleges and 36,000 in private sector. Out of 36,000 seats, 30,000 seats are in private colleges and the rest 6,000 seats in deemed universities", he added.
However, the Health Minister has termed the legislation as "pro-poor" saying it would bring not only government seats but also 50 per cent of all private seats within the reach of meritorious students belonging to economically weaker sections.
'56 recommendations accepted'
Earlier after moving the Bill for passage, the Union Health Minister said out of 56 recommendations made by a parliamentary panel, the government has fully accepted 40 of them, seven partially and rejected nine of them.
Highlighting key features of the Bill, the minister said there are some apprehensions by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and doctors but the Bill will in no way cause "inconvenience to students".
He sought "unanimous" support to the Bill, saying it is a very important legislation to improve medical education in the country.
Community health provider
According to the Bill, the Commission may grant limited licence to practise medicine at mid-level as Community Health Provider "to such person connected with modern scientific medical profession who qualify such criteria as may be specified by the regulations".
Responding to this provision, R.V. Asokan, Secretary General, IMA said this (Section 32) provides for licencing of 3.5 lakh unqualified non-medical persons to practise modern medicine and the term Community Health Provider has been vaguely defined to allow anyone connected with modern medicine to get registered in NMC and be licensed to practise modern medicine.
The IMA, which has also expressed reservations over several sections of the bill and had given a call for a 24-hour withdrawal of non-essential services on Wednesday, said several health facilities across the country responded to it.
The largest body of doctors and medical students in the country with around three lakh members, the IMA had also called for demonstrations and hunger strikes at its local branches and had urged students to boycott classes.
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