Govinda K.C., an orthopaedic surgeon and professor, is widely acclaimed for his philanthropic work and his “indefinite fasts” — five in the last three years — demanding transparency in granting university affiliation to private medical colleges and proper mechanisms to ensure that academic standards are maintained. He broke his fast on the 12th day on Thursday, after the government’s chief secretary and the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission gave an assurance on behalf of the prime minister that his 10-point demands would be addressed. That would mean the annulment of the affiliation granted to a couple of medical colleges, at least one of which is owned by leaders and cadres of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and named after their late leader and former PM Man Mohan Adhikari.
But Govinda K.C.’s campaign shook the government from the day it began, as it was perceived to be more against the all-pervasive corruption. Should political parties and politicians run profit-making businesses? The fast has triggered a fierce debate. The mushrooming of private medical institutions is not the only thing identified with corruption. A British parliamentary committee recently instructed its government to consider cutting aid to Nepal if no measures were taken to end “the endemic corruption”. The European Commission suspended aid to Advocacy Forum, an NGO receiving preferential treatment from donors, after financial irregularities were suspected.
The Supreme Court and the Nepal Bar Association are at loggerheads after the latter called for an end to “corruption” in the apex court via a resolution. Chief Justice Ram Kumar Shah not only disliked it but went to the extent of asking for a clarification. The apex court’s image suffered a setback after March 2013, when the incumbent chief justice had agreed to head the executive, with nominees of major parties in his cabinet. The perceived nexus between the executive, judiciary and political parties has taken a heavy toll on the court’s image. In this context, the mushrooming of medical colleges and suspicions of money changing hands in easy grants of affiliation became a key issue.
The sudden spurt in the growth of private medical colleges in Nepal has a history. In 1992, India’s Supreme Court first called capitation fees illegal. As Nepal had just transformed into a liberal democracy and economy, some affected by the Indian judgment found Nepal a better base to invest in such colleges. They could escape the restrictions and also easily lure Indian, non-resident Nepalese and Nepalese students too. Private investors from Nepal also joined the race. But the absence of regulatory bodies and rampant politicisation soon resulted in the deterioration of standards. But Govinda K.C.’s fast this time round forced the government to promise proper regulatory bodies. The rot began in 2006 after Nepal’s sweeping political changes. The parties that have monopolised power since began a new power-sharing arrangement by filling all key university and medical council posts with loyalists. That explains why these bodies have failed to carry out their regulatory responsibilities.
Part of the corruption may be the effect of the prolonged transition. But there are concerns that the culture of impunity has been institutionalised. Govinda K.C.’s fasts have drawn big crowds, but the government finally yielding is an indication of how angry people are.