The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fee fury on 3 fronts, govt on 2 sides

Drop scalpels, take up cudgels

Calcutta, Nov. 20: Medical students are on the warpath against the Bengal government’s decision to raise tuition charges, not revised for over half-a-century, and introduce capitation fees.

Several hundred students from the five medical colleges of Calcutta and three in the districts today formed a “united forum” to protest against the tuition fee increase to Rs 1,000 a month and the reservation of 15 per cent seats for students willing to pay a Rs 5-lakh capitation fee from the next academic session.

At a convention organised at RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, students taking the MBBS course alleged that the introduction of capitation fees would affect the quality of doctors. They also described the tuition fee increase as unacceptable, though it has remained frozen since Independence.

“Everybody knows how costly it has now become to study medicine. Besides, students who hail from poor families will not be able to afford the higher fees. The government has to withdraw its plan or face widespread protests,” said Mridul Sarkar, a city-based doctor and spokesman for the newly-formed All Bengal Medical Students’ Action Forum.

The organisation is a platform for students to stage a series of demonstrations in medical colleges and protest rallies on city streets.

Health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra dismissed fears of poor students being unable to afford medical education. “We are working on a proposal to ensure that the future of those medical students who cannot afford the higher fees is not jeopardised,” Mishra said.

Finding it tough to run medical education out of its own coffers at a time when it has to foot a huge subsidy bill to keep even a rickety public health system on its legs, the government decided to raise tuition fees and turn MBBS courses into “self-financing mechanisms”.

Hostel fees are also proposed to be enhanced — from around Rs 10-12 now to Rs 500 a month.

The director of medical education, C.R. Maity, said: “It is surprising that no one ever thought of increasing fees before.”

“When I had passed out in the ’60s, the fees were the same. They were the same in the ’50s and still are the same in 2002. No one seems to have a clue when they were last increased,” Maity added.

The choice before the government is whether to continue to subsidise medical education — the large majority of students are from middle-class families — or divert that money towards improving public health services, used by poor people.

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