With the recent Punjab Cabinet meeting not taking a final decision on regulating the fee of MBBS and BDS courses in private medical sciences universities, Kanchan Vasdev explains why the students of these universities would have to pay an exorbitant fee for another year.
What has the government done?
While the Medical Education Department had proposed the Cabinet to allow amendment in the Punjab Private Health Sciences Education Institutions (Regulation of Admission, Fixation of Fee and Making Reservation) Act 2006, bringing the private universities under the ambit of this law, the issue was deferred in the wake of criticism from a few ministers. The Chief Minister then set up a Cabinet sub-committee. The committee would now take its own time to submit a report. By the time, the admissions in MBBS and BDS courses for the next session would be done.
What the amendment in the Act would have done?
The amendment would have allowed the government to regulate fee of all private universities, who are not in the ambit of the law. Under the Act, only the private colleges fall under the law allowing the government to regulate their fee. Punjab’s Advocate General Atul Nanda had in his legal opinion advised the government to amend the law to bring the universities also under its ambit.
How many private medical universities are there in Punjab?
Punjab has three private universities. These include Adesh University, Bathinda, Desh Bhagat University, Amloh and Sri Guru Ram Das University of Health Sciences, Amritsar (SGRD). Adesh University, offering MBBS and BDS courses, and Desh Bhagat University, offering BDS courses, are not covered under the ambit of the law. An MBBS student has to pay between Rs 50-70 lakh for the entire course to private universities while the proposal was to bring it below to between Rs 10 to 15 lakh. SGRD University, set up in 2016 is, however, covered under the law under which the government regulates its fee. There are 150 seats for each course in each university.
What did the Cabinet not allow the amendment to be brought in?
While the state government is accused of buckling under political pressure and not allowing the amendment to take place, the government’s argument is that it is not easy for the private professional institutions to run professional colleges that have to provide state-of-the-art infrastructure to students, laboratories and befitting faculty members. It says that Government run Rajindra Medical College in Patiala, a prestigious institute, was able to collect only Rs 19 crore as fee while its annual budget was Rs 150 crore. An amount of Rs 131 crore was funded by state government.
Where would the universities bring this kind of money? They argue that Guru Ram Das University is able to sustain it as it gets funds from SGPC, Christian Medical College gets donations from missionaries and PIMS is government aided. Hence, it is not difficult for these private colleges to run their institutes with the regulated fee. Also, there are several in the government who feel that they should provide a level playing field for everyone. They argue, why other private universities too should not be brought under the ambit of the law.
What stirred the controversy?
A notification issued was in February 2018 by then secretary Sanjay Kumar. It brought all private medical institutes, including Adesh University, SGRD and Christian Medical College (CMC), Ludhiana, under the ambit of Punjab Private Health Sciences Educational Institutions (Regulation of admission, fixation of fee & making of reservation) Act, 2006. But CMC said that it being a minority unaided institution, the state cannot fix its quota.
Why was fee regulation law enacted?
The issue dates back to 2003 when the Supreme Court directed the states to enact a law to regulate the fee of all professional colleges. Punjab constituted a committee under a retired Judge G R Majithia to suggest the ways and means to regulate the fee. In 2006, Punjab enacted a law that allowed the government to regulate the fee. The government regulated the fee by dividing seats under government and management quota in the ratio of 50:50. Later, both Desh Bhagat and Adesh, which were medical colleges earlier, upgraded themselves as universities. They contended that they did not fall in the ambit of the regulation law as it was a direction by the SC for only professional colleges and not the universities.