Saying the Medical Council of India (MCI) had "repeatedly" failed in its duties and the quality of medical education in the country was at its "lowest ebb", the Supreme Court on Monday appointed a high-powered committee headed by former CJI R M Lodha to clean up the system by taking over the functions of MCI.
"The medical graduates lack competence in performing basic health care tasks. Instances of unethical practices continued to grow. The MCI was not able to spearhead any serious reforms in medical education. The MCI neither represented the professional excellence nor its ethos," said Justice A K Sikri, who wrote the judgment for the five-judge Constitution bench comprising justices A R Dave, R K Agrawal, A K Goel and R Banumathi. The system keeps out most meritorious and underprivileged students, the bench said.
The order signals the end of the road for MCI that has been in the midst of controversies since its president Ketan Mehta was arrested in a corruption case. The government has been actively considering scrapping MCI in its present form.
The court asked the oversight committee, also comprising retired comptroller and auditor general Vinod Rai and eminent doctor Shiva Sareen, to oversee all statutory functions under the MCI Act and said policy decisions would require the panel's approval. The committee will function till the Centre puts in place a new mechanism for regulation by amending the statute or bringing a new legislation.
The court said deep-rooted corruption is prevalent in MCI and its members, coming from commercialised corporate private hospitals, were also found indulging in unethical practices such as carrying out unnecessary diagnostic tests and surgical procedures to extract money from hapless patients. It said the law needs to be amended as the Centre has no power under the present system to disagree with MCI and give policy directives to the regulatory body.
"The existing system of graduate medical education is required to be re-invented. The admission process was not satisfactory as majority of seats in private medical colleges were being allotted for capitation fee. The system keeps out most meritorious and underprivileged students," the bench said.
A day before the Supreme Court is to hear the controversy on a national eligibility test (NEET), the Constitution bench strongly batted for a common entrance test by scrapping exams conducted by private medical colleges. It said that common window test would tackle the menace of capitation fee and bring transparency in the admission process.
The court passed the order on a bunch of petitions filed by private unaided medical colleges of Madhya Pradesh challenging the validity of state legislation to bring into force Common Entrance Test (CET) for all medical institutions and regulate fee structure for medical education.
Dismissing their plea, the bench said the state government was justified to regulate education to ensure that merit could not be compromised in admissions to professional institutions nor capitation fee could be permitted. "The Constitution is primarily for the common man. Larger interest and welfare of student community to promote merit, achieve excellence and curb malpractices, fee and admissions can certainly be regulated," the bench said.
"It is to be borne in mind is that the occupation of education cannot be treated at par with other economic activities. In this field, the State cannot remain a mute spectator and has to necessarily step in in order to prevent exploitation, privatization and commercialisation by the private sector," the bench said.