Guwahati, April 1: Less than a week after the Supreme Court stoked the embers of the OBC quota debate, Assam has decided to reserve MBBS seats for students from the rural belt as part of an unconventional strategy to improve the healthcare system in the state’s interiors.
Health and family welfare minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said today that doctors were reluctant to accept postings in the rural belt and the government was not being able to do much about it.
“The existing set of rules does not categorically mention that doctors will have to serve in rural areas, whether they like it or not. By reserving seats in medical colleges for rural students, we can lawfully force those who benefit from the quota system to work in rural healthcare centres for at least five years after completing their course. We believe that students from rural areas would actually be glad to serve people in their villages.”
Although the nitty-gritty of the system is still being worked out, it has been decided that reservation will be applicable only to students who have pursued their education till the higher secondary stage in rural institutions.
Sarma said the onus would be on the directorate of medical education to strictly adhere to the rules of selection and ensure that only deserving students from the rural areas get seats reserved under the proposed quota system. The percentage of reservation will be announced soon.
The state has three medical colleges, the oldest of them being the Assam Medical College and Hospital in Dibrugarh. The other two are in Guwahati and Silchar. Together, they have 391 MBBS seats.
“Unless a legal hassle crops up, we intend to implement the rural quota system in all three medical colleges during the current academic year itself,” the health minister said. The government has already decided to raise the number of reserved seats at the post-graduation level from 10 to 16 for MBBS doctors working in the rural areas. The official definition of a “rural area” is any place that is at least 5 km away from notified town limits.
In another step to encourage medical and health officers to work in the rural belt, the government recently announced special incentives for certain categories of officials in the rural health services.
Sarma said the government was in the process of effecting reforms in the medical entrance examination to produce “quality” doctors. He said the minimum eligibility for the MBBS entrance test would be increased from 55 to 60 per cent scores in the higher secondary examination.
The minister admitted that “proxy examinees” were eroding the fairness of the common entrance test. He said the government was exploring all possibilities to restore the credibility of the system.