K G Suresh
The NMC bill, passed in the Rajya Sabha last week amid protests from the medical community, proposes
to replace the Medical Commission of India with a National Medical Commission to regulate all aspects
of medical education, profession and institutions.
Way back in 1934, the Medical Council of India was constituted to oversee medical education and its
implementation throughout the country. Following proven charges of corruption against the then-
president Ketan Desai, it was disbanded in 2010.
The Commission is expected to be constituted within the next six months, according to Union Health
Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. In his latest interview to a news agency, Prime Minister Modi himself
sought to clear the air on the controversial legislation, saying the BJP-led NDA Government’s intention
was to create a more transparent medical education system.
"When we formed the government in 2014, there were many concerns about the existing system of
medical education…A parliamentary committee did rigorous study and took a very dull view of the state
of affairs in medical education. It pointed out mismanagement, lack of transparency and
arbitrariness…We decided to go through with it [reforms] because this is not a matter that can be taken
lightly, as it concerns the health of our people and future of our youth," the prime minister said.
However, doctors say unless some sections in the bill are amended, the move will only serve to further
deteriorate medical education and degrade healthcare services.
One of the major concerns expressed by the medical fraternity, which even went on a protest strike
across the country, is the concept of ‘Bridge Course’ envisaged under the legislation wherein dentists,
AYUSH and homeopathic practitioners, paramedical students and others would be allowed to take a six-
month crash course in practical medicine and on completion, they could be allocated the post of the
doctor at local health centres.
While the move is aimed at reducing the acute staff crunch at these medical facilities, the protesting
doctors feel it could dilute the quality of services provided and end up legalising “quacks’.
Again, even as controversy rages over the existing National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), which
was an issue in the recent Lok Sabha polls in Tamil Nadu, the new legislation seeks to introduce the
National Exit Test (NEXT), which students will be required to clear in lieu of final year exams. Students
who have completed a medical course abroad would also be required to take NEXT prior to being
allowed to practice in the country. It also will act as an entrance exam for postgraduate courses.
According to the critics, this again puts several thousands of students at a disadvantage, who would’ve
otherwise been able to secure medical seats based upon their PUC marks.
However, the Health Minister has sought to assure the medical fraternity that the new system will
“improve access to quality and affordable education and ensure availability of adequate and qualified
medical professionals in all parts of the country. It would enforce high ethical standards, provide an
effective grievance redressal mechanism and institute processes that are flexible to adapt to changing
needs with time. NEXT is designed to ensure uniform standards of medical education in India and reduce
the number of exams. Medical institutions would be forced to improve the standards since performance
in NEXT would determine the rating of the institution to a large extent. In case of failing in NEXT, a
student would be able to reappear for registration purpose and for improving rank for PG admission
Further, the NMC bill proposes enhanced punishment for quacks with provision of imprisonment up to
one year and fine up to Rs 5 lakhs.
State Governments too have raised apprehensions on several counts. Nevertheless, there has been an
across the board consensus for a transparent regulator. The NMC Bill is certainly a decisive step in that
direction. One sincerely hopes that the Government would hold wider consultations with all
stakeholders and address their genuine concerns in the run up to the establishment of the apex body.