Odisha Health Minister Naba Kisore Das on Friday announced the state government’s decision to hike bond policy for postgraduate and super-specialty medical students in state-run medical colleges in an effort to retain doctors, a move that met with criticism from the association of government doctors serving other than in medical colleges.
The penalty will be applicable to qualified doctors who do not serve in the state for two years after completing their degrees.
Policy meant to retain professionals
Odisha is said to have more than 2,400 vacancies in 6,500-plus sanctioned posts of doctors, and this is seen as the primary reason for raising the bond policy for medical students — to retain the medical professionals and fill up the sanctioned posts. But professionals working on field are of the opinion that poor pay and working conditions in the state are making most doctors move to the private sector, or to other states. Penalty amounts to the tune of Rs 1.5 crore or Rs 2 crore are also seen as “meaningless” by many, as very few postgraduates will be able to cough up that kind of money.
“We finalised the health bond policy today. Those who study a postgraduate degree in Odisha have to submit a bond of Rs 1.5 crore, and those who pursue super-specialisation will (be required to) submit Rs 2 crore,” Das told the media.
He said the penalty earlier was Rs 36 lakh.
The minister also said, “I have instructed the department to implement this policy after the upcoming admission process (in this academic session) is over…. Those who come to Odisha to study will have to stay here for two years or leave after paying the mentioned amounts,” he said.
The government believes the policy will address shortfall of doctors serving with the government. While Opposition BJP called it an “empty announcement”, Congress leader Narasingh Mishra backed the policy in principle.
The Odisha Medical Service Association, which represents government doctors serving other than in medical colleges, said in a written statement: “Why is this policy only for government, and not for private medical colleges? This policy will help private medical colleges fill up seats at a higher rate.”
Critiquing the move, Indian Medical Association (IMA) national central working committee member, Dr Ananga Dwivedi, said, “The state Health Department has been projecting policy as per their dreams, and not the reality. Give doctors infrastructure inside and outside hospitals (first). Are there decent toilets for doctors in remote places? Are machines they need for tests available?”
Dr Ashwini Pujahari, former director of Veer Surendra Sai Institute of Medical Sciences and Research (VIMSAR) in Burla, Sambalpur district, conceded that the government has the right to implement such a policy because it is providing subsidised education, and that doctors are “obligated to pay back to the society”. But, he added, “At the implementation stage, there is deliberate delay in fixing when a graduating student (with PG or super-specialisation degree) will be given a job. The government should first commit that it will announce posting before students graduate.”
The government should also clearly spell out action to be taken against students who fail to pay the penalty and “abscond from serving the stipulated period”, Dr Pujahari said. “Will the bond be registered with a court? Will assets of absconders be seized,” he asked.
IMA’s Dr Dwivedi said, “I would like to know whether any penalty was extracted earlier when hundreds of doctors who studied here went outside, and can now be found working at AIIMS in Delhi.”
The office of the Health Secretary Dr P K Meherda said he was not available for a comment.