The Union health ministry has banned 32 private medical colleges from admitting students for two years, overruling a Supreme Court panel that had cleared their alleged substandard facilities.
The ministry also forfeited the colleges’ security deposit of Rs 2 crore each. It has, however, allowed 4,000 undergrad students to continue studying at these institutes.
“We based our decision on the inspection report which highlighted gross deficiency of facilities. But the decision will not impact students already studying,” Arun Singhal, joint secretary, health and family welfare, told Hindustan Times.
Singhal did not explain why the government allowed the colleges that it found “unfit” to continue.
Over the years, undergrad medical studies in India have been mired in controversy, and a mushrooming of private colleges to meet growing demand has led to widespread corruption and a fall in the quality of medical education in the country.
In May 2016, the Supreme Court appointed a three-member Oversight Committee (OC), headed by former chief justice ML Lodha, to check alleged corruption at the Medical Council of India, which regulates such studies, and suggest ways to improve standards.
By the time the court panel was constituted, the MCI had completed inspecting 109 new colleges that had applied to admit medical students in 2016. The MCI allowed only 17 colleges.
But the panel reviewed the MCI’s decision and permitted 34 more colleges to take in students. This set the panel on a collision course with the MCI.
The panel allowed these colleges based on an “undertaking” from them that they will fulfill all criteria. It said if they fail a fresh inspection the colleges will be banned for two years and they will forfeit their deposits.
An HT investigation last September found at least two colleges allowed by the panel with locked operation theaters, zero faculty and no patients. Two other colleges, however, had good infrastructure.
Following this, a joint four-member inspection team of the Oversight Committee and MCI visited these colleges between November and December and found them “grossly deficient in basic facilities”.
The MCI recommended banning 32 colleges. However, just a day before the court panel’s mandate was to run out on May 15, it reversed the MCI recommendations, permitting 26 colleges to admit students and suggesting fresh inspection of the remaining six.
HT has reviewed a copy of the Oversight Committee’s May 14 memo sent to the health ministry.
In at least two instances, the committee overruled staff deficiencies by accepting the colleges’ plea that the staff had gone to exchange old banknotes after demonetisation.
In defence of its decision, the panel cited “numerous instances of violation” of inspection guidelines by the joint team.
The MCI dismissed the allegation.
“It will be unfair to say that MCI did not adhere to the OC guidelines. The MCI has engaged the assessors from the OC panel and OC recommended institution in every team,” said Jayshree Mehta, president of the MCI.
The court panel members didn’t respond to HT’s email about the ministry’s decision.
“We looked at the inspection report of the MCI and the OC’s comment on that and made a decision,” Singhal said.
Most of the private colleges called the ban discriminatory and illegal.
“Last year, the OC allowed 34 colleges to admit students and put in place a proper mechanism to inspect the facilities, but the MCI has grossly violated that process. It failed 32 colleges deliberately. It is witch-hunting,” a promoter of a private college said.
Students said they felt victimised.
“If the government thinks that these colleges don’t have facilities then we should be shifted to approved colleges immediately,” a student from a private college said.
They fear the ban will discourage colleges from improving facilities, impacting their studies.