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Centre restores scrapped medical seats

- Admissions allowed to 690 seats but with three-month deadline to address deficiencies

Calcutta, July 12: The Union health ministry today decided to allow admissions to 690 MBBS seats in Bengal that had been scrapped by the Medical Council of India but said medical colleges would have to address their deficiencies within three months.

The decision was verbally communicated to the state health department after a meeting in Delhi today.

“We have recommend to the health ministry (the) restoration of MBBS seats in 46 medical colleges across the country. But they have to improve infrastructure and faculty strength according to the norms within the next three months,” MCI president Jayshreeben Mehta told The Telegraph from Delhi. “The authorities (of the medical colleges and the state health departments) have given undertakings in today’s meeting that they will rectify the deficiencies within the three-month period and we thought that was acceptable,” she added.

Of these 46, nine medical colleges are in Bengal, where around 1,100 undergraduate seats had been scrapped by the MCI. Around 400 of the seats in Bengal had been restored a few weeks ago. Bengal has 2,450 MBBS seats in state-run and private institutes.

The council had scrapped the seats after its inspectors reported that the colleges lacked basic facilities such as adequate resident medical officers, paramedics in the haematology, serology, histopathology and cytology, physiology and community medicine departments, laboratory equipment and space in the outpatient departments.

The state-run institutes where seats were scrapped included NRS, SSKM, Calcutta Medical College, RG Kar, Malda Medical College, Sagore Dutta Medical College, ESI Joka, Bankura Sammilani and North Bengal Medical College.

“These colleges had not met statutory requirements and so we had withdrawn the permissions. We need to produce doctors but they should be qualified and well trained. We’ll allow deficiency of less than 10 per cent but, beyond that, it’s not permissible,” Mehta said.

The MCI president said that in most government-run medical colleges in the country, steps had not been taken to address the deficiencies despite several warnings over the past few years. “So we needed to be tough and now things have started improving,” Mehta said.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had written to Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, requesting the Centre to allow admissions to the scrapped seats. State health officials had also submitted letters promising to meet the deficiencies.

“We want more doctors but quality should be maintained. So, we had requested the MCI to have a fresh look at the compliance letters submitted by the medical colleges,” Harsh Vardhan said today.

Some health department officials had flown to Delhi from Calcutta last night to attend today’s meeting.

“The ministry told us that all 690 scrapped seats would be restored. We are expecting the letters to arrive before the second phase of counselling starts,” said Moloy Kumar De, the state health secretary. He said work was on at all the medical colleges to improve infrastructure.

Health department officials said they were expecting the formal letters from the ministry before July 25, when the second round of counselling for admissions would start.

Some medical college principals said they would be able to address the deficiencies before the three-month deadline.

“We have submitted the undertaking and work on the construction of new academic buildings and increasing space in the library is almost complete. We need to install furniture now,” said Pradip Mitra, the director of the Institute of Post Graduate Medical Research and Education (IPGMER)-SSKM.

Officials of other medical colleges said they were in the process of recruiting teachers and installing pre-fabricated structures for lecture theatres and academic buildings.

“The state government started a recruitment drive in March and 450 resident medical officers have been hired since,” a Bengal health department official said.

The government intends to also recruit teaching doctors on contract, he said. The state has raised the retirement age of teaching doctors from 62 to 65 years.

However, sources said, this was not the first time the state had submitted such undertakings. Last year, too, the medical colleges had given similar undertakings but did not do much to improve infrastructure.

“We need to plan at least five years in advance to improve infrastructure for adding 50 to 100 medical seats. Such planning has not been done,” an official said.