The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill, 2019, which seeks to replace the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956.
Concluding his reply to questions raised by MPs, Health and Family Welfare Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan termed the Bill as one that will “go down in history as one of the greatest reforms of this government”.
Several MPs, including those of the Congress, AIADMK, CPI(M) and IUML, opposed the Bill, with Congress floor leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury demanding that it be sent to the select committee.
Vardhan said, “Let me assure every MP, medical professional, and student that the basic intent of the government is to ensure and restore utmost standard of integrity in education, particularly medical education. Nobody should have any apprehension about the intention of the government.”
He said the Bill is not against the country’s federal structure because states, and not the Centre, will issue students Medical-Essentiality Certificates. “The NMC Bill is anti-vested interests. It will help us move away from inspection raj. It will select one-time and full-time regulators,” he said.
The Bill lists its intent as provision of medical education system which ensures adequate and high-quality medical professionals, latest medical research, periodic assessment of medical institutions, and an effective grievance redressal mechanism.
Thirty-two MPs spoke during the nearly six-hour discussion on the Bill, with many of them raising concerns about the NMC members’ appointment process, the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), and non-regulation of private medical colleges.
The NMC will have 25 members, all appointed by the Central government on recommendation of a search committee comprising the Cabinet Secretary and five experts nominated by the Centre.
TDP member K Srinivas said this will lead to “favouritism and bureaucratic interference” in the selection process. “Medical education will become more expensive due to this Bill,” he said. “Under NMC, medical colleges will need permission only once since there is no annual renewal mandated. After that, colleges can increase seats beyond the stipulated 250 and can even start postgraduate courses on their own. It will be chaotic and unregulated.”
The Bill talks of a uniform NEET exam for admission to undergraduate and postgraduate super-specialty medical education.
Members such as Hasnain Masoodi (National Conference), E T Mohammad Basheer (AIUML) and N K Premachandran (RSP) raised concerns about marginalisation of poor students, especially from rural areas, in the NEET system. Basheer and S Venkatesan (CPI-M) said it will affect the federal structure.
Premachandran said 1.43 lakh students took NEET exams last year, of whom 75,000 qualified. “Where will the rest 68,000 go?”
Members from opposition parties also objected to a clause in the Bill that allows the NMC to only determine fees for up to 50 per cent of the seats in private institutions. Congress MP M K Raghavan said, “This Bill will increase the cost of medical treatment. Leaving it to private institutions to determine fees for the remaining 50 per cent will have an adverse effect”.
Minister Harsh Vardhan said all government-run medical colleges already have their fees regulated, and that this Bill seeks regulating 50 per cent fees in even private medical colleges. He said the Bill provides for stronger action against quacks, who are liable for up to one-year jail and Rs 5 lakh fine.
Vardhan said, “NEET has already been institutionalised and the country has seen successful implementation. Forty-five years ago, when we had to enter the medical profession, we had to take 10-12 different exams. Now you have to appear for one exam only,” he said.