NEET or untidy?
Guest article by Anoop Kohli
An outgoing Chief Justice often reserves certain judgments, if they be so timed and be of such value, till his last day in office. It is an occasion more sublime than the one when he took oath. While taking oath, he only goes on record for having occupied the highest constitutional chair. By making a landmark judgment, with the last strokes of his mighty pen, he books a seat in history. Hon’ble Chief Justice Altumush Kabir’s last verdict, on an extremely demanding national issue of the procedure of selection of talent to be trained to be future life savers, was quietly let out after he had stepped down. He must have known that concluding on facts and arguments as placed before him, the verdict that was on the cards was not the one he would have liked to be remembered for. He may, therefore, have asked for it to be released when he was no longer on the high chair. Indeed it was a 2:1 verdict, with Hon’ble Justice Dave dissenting. Justice Dave also mentions that he was hurried in as the CJI was to retire. Was the case so sloppily argued, with tacit understanding between the two sides, so as to leave no room for any verdict, but the one that finally seemed to have been thrust upon an aspiring generation? This verdict, and I cannot blame the legal process as it is bound by facts placed before it, is going to have grave consequences (literally). Generations full of talent will never reach there to keep a nation healthy, much less be known the world over, much like their predecessors, as coming from a country that produces some of the best serving doctors in the world. Have we, as a nation, decided that there is no such thing as calibre in a profession and therefore there is no need to exert any effort to put in place a standard, uniform, selection process as is practised in any country that has a health system to talk about?
The case was between the MCI, a statutory body empowered by an Act of Parliament, and a group that represented private medical colleges. The present members of the MCI are handpicked scholars of the profession and have credentials in academics, teaching, and various selection processes at institutional levels. It is a different matter that they are there under an extended ordinance by the President of India. That does not take away anything from their legal powers. The MCI indeed has the power to recognize medical colleges, certify various courses offered, certify qualifications awarded and lay down norms for further modification and upgradation of medical curricula. This elite group was put in place immediately after the previous autonomous body was dissolved as it was found bungling on various regulatory issues, including taking bribes for granting recognition to medical colleges. The present group worked diligently, and finally came with ‘NEET’ (national eligibility and entrance test), an extremely well-thought-out terminology that seems to have taken into account the next steps in line, after taking this first important step. The concept would not have come without enough research and feedback from national and international experts. The student aspirants welcomed it. The next steps to be taken into account, the disparities arising, seem to be embedded in the terms “eligibility and entrance”.
At the “weigh in” level, private medical education, which is furiously becoming an industry, does not have prima facie “rights” before a constitutional body that regulates it. If they have any, the MCI is the rightfully empowered body to look into their grievances. To give you an example of the present reforms the judiciary is trying to adapt, let me mention a judgment by the ex-CJI, Hon’ble Justice SH Kapadia that the apex court would be less inclined, and may even take punitive action for PILs that directly interfere with executive policy. There was sufficient reason for the apex court not to have accepted the petition and referred it to the MCI.
I believe there is a close to 200-page judgment, with 300 paragraphs, and a 35-page dissenting judgment by Hon’ble justice Dave. The contents would have been released to the opposing parties, and should be common knowledge, as it concerns every student aspirant. The prematurity of this argument may be pardoned, but the MCI, as a regulatory body has to single-mindedly regulate and enforce universal and high standards of medical education. It, therefore, has to see that all talent in the country gets a chance to exert in a one-time, one-place exercise (connected through IT), so that the best get the chance to drive up the theme and science in healthcare. In such a task, it is not interfering with the so-called fundamental rights of those who have invested in private medical colleges. Their profits are not the MCI’s concern. What is termed as their rights after investment, or something to that effect, is not granted even to industry! So why is there a case for a blemished term, “health education industry”. They may like to have minuscule jurisdiction in selecting a very small number of candidates, say 2-5/100, and that too after clearance from the statutory body. That private investment lobbies in medical education have the so-called “hold” to push a constitutional regulatory body on medical education in a corner, that too in the environs of the apex court of justice, I hope, is not the beginning of dismantling constitutional bodies of all sorts, one by one! This certainly is not the definition of capitalism or an open competitive economy.
The MCI, considering that government and private colleges have matching strengths in numbers, may like to concentrate on the government medical colleges, which have a huge track record, much in terms of stacked archives, a better selection process for the faculty as well as the students, and lastly have been their own alma maters! A case of private participation can be made here, but by selecting key industrial houses, which are ready to part, without having to go so low as to seek amendments in the rules that govern academics. A refurbished government medical college, with expanded seats with expansion of staff and infrastructure, even with escalation in fees (partly to be recovered by research grants, on the campus job expansion) will retain the talent and save many from the draconian capitation fees! Most students seek the private set-up to get the necessary certification and float around later to gain practical experience elsewhere.
For the time being, the damage is done. The government will go for a review petition. (Does it have a choice?). But the case was made sure enough by getting a verdict from a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, including an outgoing Hon’ble CJI.
Only an immediate stay, or a petition by the ministry to be allowed time before implementation will do, or a Bill passed by the parliament, whichever works faster. Or else, the floodgates are open for the next couple of years for anyone with sufficient money to get in and get a license to kill!
Jagjit Singh’s anniversary is round the corner. What a refined man, what sensitivity, and what a voice. This is one of his popular ones:
“Woh bedardi se sar kaatein ameer,
Aaur main kahoon unse,
Huzoor aahista, janaab aahista.”