The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pay-and-study in protest storm
- Entry test face-saver in capitation-fee slur

More than 15 medical students launch a three-day fast within the administrative building of the state’s oldest hospital. A few kilometres away, a convention of the state’s largest association of doctors is poised to transform itself into a protest platform. Two days later, another group of medicos is lining up a programme to “stop” the admission of the first batch of medical students in the city’s four under-graduate colleges.

Twenty-four hours after the state’s first examination was held at three city-based colleges to select doctors willing to pay a special fee for a seat, the government was greeted with one protest sign after another to the scheme that could rake about Rs 7 crore into its coffers.

Confusion is the middle word for the move to hand over some medical seats at a premium. Minister of state for health Pratyush Mukherjee, for one, is not sure what to call his government’s plans. All he knows is that it is not capitation fee.

“How can you call it capitation fee when we are conducting an entrance examination'” Mukherjee asked on Monday.

Director of medical education Chittaranjan Maity clarified that this was “enhanced fee”, and was different from capitation fee as it involved an entrance examination.

Most, however, are not convinced. With educationists like Ashok Mitra commission member Sunanda Sanyal and former Calcutta Univerisity vice-chancellor Sushil Mukhopadhyay (under the All-Bengal Save Education Committee) lending their support, opponents of the medical-seat-for-a-million move have pledged to “do everything” to stop it.

The fiercest opposition is coming from doctors. Joining in the clamour on Monday was the Bengal branch of the Indian Medical Association (IMA). “When it started, it seemed as if only the proposed private medical colleges would accommodate the million-rupee-paying students,” said association secretary Malay Patra. “But now, some government-run colleges, too, look likely to accommodate them.”

Though Tuesday’s IMA convention will also highlight opposition to other aspects of the state health policy (like the Clinical Establishments Act), association spokesperson Sanjay Banerjee confirmed that the medical seat mess would be the focus.

The week of protests, meanwhile, started on Monday with a 72-hour hungerstrike being launched at Medical College and Hospital to protest the medical seats on sale.

“We will not rest till we have ensured that we don’t have to share the same classroom with students who are there because of their parents’ bank balance,” said Sayantan Banerjee.

The Medical Service Centre and the All-Bengal Medical Students’ Action Forum has announced that it will only allow the admission of merit-only freshers on Friday and Saturday. If the protests at the counselling sessions for medical students were any indication, matters could take an ugly turn over this weekend.

Minister Mukherjee, however, said no amount of protests would be able to push the government off the path it had chosen for the “state’s benefit”.

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