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Govt lashes out at MCI

New Delhi, Aug. 2: Union health minister Harsh Vardhan today lashed out at the Medical Council of India for cancelling 1,170 seats in 46 medical colleges this year, but the regulatory body said the colleges lacked infrastructure to teach medicine.

The MCI, while assessing applications from the medical colleges to increase the number of undergraduate seats leading to MBBS degree in the academic year 2014-15, approved only 2,750 seats against the demand of 3,920 seats.

Among the 46 colleges denied the additional seats, 41 are privately owned.

“Students have been punished — for most of those affected, their dream of becoming doctors evaporated as they would be forced by circumstances to pursue studies in other disciplines,” Vardhan said in a statement released by the health ministry.

The Supreme Court, in an order issued on Friday, quashed the health ministry’s plea for modification of time schedules in granting approvals to new colleges and renewal of permission to existing seats in existing colleges.

“Instead of supporting our plea in court, I am surprised the MCI opposed it. This makes me wonder whose side (MCI) is on,” Vardhan said.

“For years, it was an open secret that the MCI was looking the other way as medical colleges rampantly flouted regulations. Suddenly, this year they have struck. But why are they not punishing the (college) managements... The managements can rectify the problems by next year.”

A senior MCI official said the regulatory body, which is responsible for ensuring that medical colleges have the required infrastructure to teach medicine, had only applied the rules that govern undergraduate medical education.

“Let someone point out what wrong we have done in a single case,” Chingleput Varadapillai Bhirmanandham, a senior cardiologist and vice-president of the MCI, told The Telegraph. “We have applied rules uniformly to all colleges.”

The MCI has registered 392 medical colleges that offer about 48,000 MBBS seats, but sections of MCI officials as well as senior medical academics have for years been concerned at the lack of adequate infrastructure in some of these colleges.

“Medical colleges need to have the right strength of faculty, the right kind of laboratory facilities, and adequate clinical material (patients),” Bhirmanandham said. “A college needs to have an adequate number of patients in OPDs (out-patient departments) and in hospitals. We do not want colleges to generate sub-standard doctors,” he said.

But Vardhan said he had received numerous delegations of students, doctors and institution managements complaining of the MCI’s attitude. At one point in early June, Vardhan said in his statement, over 10,000 seats were in jeopardy, but the MCI was “forced to climb down” owing to the health ministry’s persistence.

Vardhan said the “best solution”, would have been to admit the students and then impose pressure on the college managements to implement the necessary steps (to improve infrastructure.)

“The MCI has taken a bureaucratic attitude and did not reveal an awareness that it was dealing with young lives,” Vardhan said. He said most of the “deficiencies” in the MCI’s reports related to problems with air-conditioning, the thickness of partition walls in the buildings, and the shortage of faculty which, the minister said, is an “old irritant”.

The MCI, Vardhan said, did not keep the sentiment of students in mind.

“I had personally requested the MCI president to think of the fate of the student instead of placing a premium on the frivolous deficiencies of the colleges. But it had no impact on her,” he said.