Sordid saga: How an Odisha medical college row tied 124 students in a knot
Following report is from http://www.dailyo.in/politics/odisha-mci-mbbs-sardar-rajas-medical-college-supreme-court-ppp-iim-sambalpur/story/1/8447.html
The fate of 124 MBBS students of Sardar Rajas Medical College in western Odisha was decided this week with the Supreme Court directing the students to be admitted to three private medical colleges in the state. The college built on a public private partnership (PPP) model had failed to receive approval from the Medical Council of India (MCI) which resulted in uncertainty over the future of the students. The whole saga involving the state government, MCI, high court, other government medical colleges and the Supreme Court has been murky.
The story begins from 2004 when the government of Odisha, through the Western Odisha Development Council (WODC) inked a deal with Selvam Educational and Charitable Trust of Tamil Nadu to establish a medical college in one of the country’s most backward districts, Kalahandi. The government then allotted 25 acres of land for free and gave a sum of Rs 20 crore for the college to start.
Promising to build a 300-bed hospital with all necessary facilities, the trust after much delay in setting up the infrastructure, admitted 100 students for the year 2013-’14. Next year another 24 students were admitted. In the wake of the college not having adequate infrastructure and staff, the MCI withdrew permission for admission this year.
The Odisha High Court then stepped in and ruled that the majority of the students would be allocated to two government medical colleges and a small number to three private medical colleges. All hell broke loose when students of the two government medical colleges in Berhampur and Burla staged protests against addition of the aggrieved students citing lack of facilities and a moral quandary where lower ranked students of the shut college would now become equal with higher ranked students.
The high court, in the meantime, ruled in favour of an increase in seats in the three private medical colleges so that the displaced students could be admitted. The ruling was supported by the state cabinet. This prompted the MCI, which is against adding seats to colleges that lack adequate facilities, to move the Supreme Court against the high court order. A special leave petition brought the Supreme Court in the picture which after staying the high court’s order finally ordered that all 124 students of the beleaguered institution be admitted to the three private medical colleges while paying fees at par with government colleges.
In the meantime, the Odisha government has scrapped its MoU with Selvam Trust and is looking for fresh bidders to take up the work for the 300-bed hospital. It has also promised to initiate criminal proceedings against the trust. While the uncertainty of many months has ended for the students, including the ones protesting against the state government and the high court’s orders, there are more questions than answers in this sordid saga.
The first question is regarding the policy. The intent of setting up a medical school and hospital in a remote and backward district needs questioning. Populism might warrant it but when it comes to setting up the elaborate infrastructure and having adequate faculty members as the MCI demands, running a medical school in a remote region becomes fraught with difficulties. Invariably, the admission rate at such institutions gets hit. Only few candidates make a beeline for colleges that lack facilities and are situated in a poorly connected places. A case in point was the dismal admission rate at IIM Sambalpur seen recently.
The second question is about the merit of the MoU partner. A cursory look at Selvam Trust’s website will tell you that it does not possess expertise in running a medical college. It runs an engineering and science college. What attracted the state government to choose such a partner? Was it because no other group showed interest?
The third question is about the handling of the case by honourable Odisha High Court and to some extent by the Supreme Court. If lack of infrastructure and faculty members can be a valid reason for not permitting admission in government medical colleges, does not the same apply to the private colleges as well? The high court stepping into the role of the MCI also was an intrusion that could have been best avoided. The case is set to be heard soon and one can only hope that the apex court takes cognisance of the digression from rules provides direction.
Lastly, the state government’s handling of the whole issue should come under the scanner. Students of government colleges protesting for weeks against sharing classes with displaced students of Sardar Rajas Medical College also presented an ugly picture and could have been addressed better by a concerned state government. Delay in project implementation, not meeting the desired requirements despite warnings from the MCI, sorry state of both government and private medical colleges are some issues that need to be answered by the government.
Odisha woefully lacks adequate and quality medical colleges. Plans under the PPP model are afoot to implement a few projects to meet this glaring gap. The Sardar Rajas Medical College row should, amid other things, serve as a rude wake up call for all concerned.