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ONE MEDICINE FOR ALL ILLS

The author is former vice-chancellor, University of Calcutta

In West Bengal, post-graduate education in medical disciplines was never given any planned attention, though teachers are expected to have post-graduate degrees. Under the Calcutta University, post-graduate teaching is conducted by affiliated medical colleges in different clinical streams, co-ordinated and examined centrally by the university. The basic medical sciences like anatomy, physiology and so on, have their post-graduate teaching done by the university’s own College of Medicine, christened as Dr B.C. Roy Post-graduate Institute of Basic Medical Sciences. For some reason, the affiliated medical colleges, owned and managed by the government, hardly showed enthusiasm for post-graduate teaching in non-clinical subjects like the basic medical sciences.

After coming to power in 1977, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) proceeded to capture all the levers in the field of education, including higher education, and did so by capturing the central authorities of the universities, thus ruling over their faculties also. But the CPI(M) succeeded in this by rewarding the loyal mediocrity at the cost of excellence in most cases. The bill for the taking over of the management and subsequent acquisition of the Dr B.C. Roy Post-graduate Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, passed by the state assembly in July last, shows once again that, much as the ministers now rue the deterioration of standards in higher education, when it comes to the crunch, the CPI(M) will continue to choose quantity at the cost of quality. Its latest fiats regarding admission in undergraduate colleges, making the Calcutta University retract its decision to ask non-government colleges not to admit in excess of the sanctioned strength while asking Presidency College to increase its intake reveals the CPI(M)’s preference for quantity.

The way the above bill was presented reveals another disturbing trend in the CPI(M)’s treatment of the academic community. Reportedly, there was no prior discussion with either the university authorities or the medical faculty concerned. Apparently, the CPI(M) decided to forsake its much-trumpeted policy of democratic discussion, and rule by the strength of brute majority.

Specifically, the take-over bill is highly objectionable, both for its academic fall-out and its administrative implications. First, the academic aspect. The preamble of the bill states, “whereas it is expedient in the public interest, to make better provisions for the development, control, management and maintenance of the institution commonly known as the Dr B.C. Roy Post-graduate Institute of Basic Medical Sciences…with a view to promoting public health (sic)”. This is an exercise in misinformation. It does not mention that this is actually a Calcutta University college, “commonly known” as the University College of Medicine. Nor does the preamble state whether there was any complaint of mismanagement, which might have given rise to a need for take-over in “public interest”. And whether a government can conduct post-graduate education better than a university is a moot question.

The statement of objects and reasons, given at the end of the bill, lets the cat out of the bag. The sole object appears to be to provide for an annual intake of 50 MBBS students, by setting up a medical college in the adjacent Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital. At present, another institute based on that hospital teaches post-graduate courses in clinical subjects only, as a unit of the UCM, but does not have any facilities for teaching basic medical sciences, namely, anatomy, physiology and so on, which are a must for recognition as a medical college by the Medical Council of India.

The government has found it convenient to take over the UCM, which has post-graduate teaching in non-clinical subjects, so that these departments can be shown to the MCI as departments of the proposed medical college. The above statement reveals that in August 2000, the UCM had already been shown as an integral part of the proposed medical college, though it is not known under what authority. It is no wonder that the statement does not have any mention of the need for “better” management of the existing post-graduate departments of the UCM. So much for the preamble.

The natural question is, what will be the consequences for post-graduate teaching of basic medical sciences' The bill is completely silent on this. Would the MCI continue to recognize the post-graduate courses presently conducted by the UCM, along with the undergraduate courses of the proposed medical college, in basic medical sciences, on the basis of the existing space and facilities of the UCM' It is highly unlikely, because of the MCI’s strict stipulations regarding space, staff, facilities for according recognition and sanctioning seats. The recent MCI directions, reducing the number of MBBS seats in North Bengal and Bankura Medical Colleges, are clear pointers. Chances are that, if the proposed medical college gets sanction for 50 MBBS seats, post-graduate courses in basic medical sciences will be curtailed.

Hence, it appears that the government is willing to trade post-graduate seats for undergraduate seats in basic medical sciences, when it is an admitted fact that facilities for post-graduate education in non-clinical subjects are woefully inadequate in West Bengal. So much for the CPI(M)’s concern for higher education even in medical disciplines.

The bill’s administrative implications are objectionable too. The proposed medical college is to be set up in two stages. First, by taking over the management and control of the UCM. Next, by acquiring its land and buildings as per the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. What will be the status of the UCM between stage I and stage II'

Clearly, since it is not being run now for undergraduate studies no such seats can be provided before stage II, that is, before it becomes a full-fledged institution and the state acquires the right to modify its purposes. Moreover, the objects and reasons appended state that the MCI wanted ownership and management to be of the same authority. Hence, the MCI will not sanction the expected MBBS seats before stage II is completed. One may argue that, if the CPI(M) is determined, stage I and stage II can be sandwiched overnight, and no problems will arise, particularly because no opposition is expected from the university authorities. But why does the bill visualize a period of 5 years or so for transition from stage I to stage II'

Another area of concern is the status of the university authorities and the teachers, after the take-over but before the acquisition. The bill lays down that the state government will appoint a director for managing the institution after taking over. To acquire this power, the university, under sub-section (6) of Section 6, has been divested of its authority in respect of the management of its own College of Medicine. Does it or does it not run foul of the Calcutta University Act' This is apart from any question of courtesy or prior discussion, which is up to the university to ponder. But such authoritarian treatment of the academic community conforms to the CPI(M)’s latest thinking on the matter, as has been borne out by a parallel enactment setting up the University of Health Sciences, in which there is no provision for election.

The status of the teachers and their research scholars, and of the non-academic employees, will be more ambiguous. The question of the status of their jobs will arise only after acquisition, when the non-teaching employees will be transferred to other departments of the university, and the teachers will have the option to continue as employees of the university under old conditions or to join the corresponding state services. If this reading of the bill is correct, what will be their status after the take-over, but before the acquisition' Why should they face an anomalous situation, where they continue to be employed by the university but controlled by a director not subject to the university’s authority'

Perhaps the most objectionable provision of the bill is Section 8, which lays down the penalties for any obstruction to its execution. Sub-section (1) of Section 8 provides that anyone who withholds any property belonging to the institution, obtains any such property, withholds registers, records or other documents, and fails to submit accounts, books and other documents when required, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine upto Rs 5,000, or with both. Sub-section (2) says that the offences under the above sub-section shall be cognizable and non-bailable.

Just imagine. Obstruction to the programme of the CPI(M) in the academia is to be crushed by instilling fear of penalties usually reserved for habitual criminals. Prior to passing the above bill, the CPI(M) enacted similar provision of penalties in respect of hawkers and electricity-thieves, most of whom are traditional left supporters. All these confirm that the CPI(M), after all, is a Stalinist party, and any talk of democratic discussion and political persuasion is a sham. Even so, provision of such penalties in the matter of taking over of an academic institution is a bit too hard to swallow.

One may wonder what prevented the government from starting under-graduate teaching of non-clinical subjects in the government’s existing post-graduate institute based on the SSKM hospital. But that would have taken time and money, which the Left Front government can ill afford. Instead, it can show immediate results in terms of expansion of medical education without spending a rupee. If, in the process, post-graduate education in basic medical sciences has to be sacrificed, so be it. Then why talk of standards'

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