In a significant move, the Ministry of Health will look into proposals for opening new medical colleges and for increasing MBBS seats in the existing medical colleges. Until now, all such applications were sent to the Medical Council of India (MCI). All applications for the academic session of 2017-18 will now be sent to the Union Health Secretary, instead of the MCI. The ministry will take a call on the issue as per the amended Establishment of Medical College Regulation 1999.

The move, sources said, is directed to bring transparency into the entire process and stop the use of money power, which has become essential for opening new medical colleges in the private sector. The ministry hopes that it will be able to reduce the financial burden on students who have to pay a hefty amount as capitation fees.

A Central government statement has said that the ministry has laid down the procedure for submitting application/proposal for the establishment of new medical colleges and starting/increasing the number of MBBS courses in existing medical colleges. Subsequently, all such applications will have to be sent online from 15 June.

The new system comes close on the heels of a report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Health and Family Welfare castigating the functioning of MCI. The report noted that the exorbitant cost of setting up medical colleges was resulting in the charging of high capitation fees and as a result, medical education in India was going beyond the reach of students belonging to the poor and middle classes.

However, the Delhi Medical Association has reacted cautiously to the move. Speaking to this newspaper, DMA secretary, Dr Ashwani Goyal said, “We are against corruption in the MCI. But at the same time, we are against clipping the wings of MCI. We are for strengthening the body. If there are shortcomings, these should be removed.”

The Standing Committee report mentions that according to the MCI the setting up of a medical college requires at least Rs 500 crore and 20 acre of land, and that this minimum standard requirement is irrational and imposes artificially rigid standards; this is proving to be a big impediment for the establishment and expansion of medical colleges.

The MCI has been facing several criticisms over the last few years, especially after the arrest of former MCI president Ketan Desai, who was accused of corruption. The Supreme Court recently set up a three-member committee, headed by former Chief Justice R.M. Lodha to oversee MCI.

India is facing a acute shortage of doctors. As per government figures, India has 9.29 lakh registered doctors. At present, every year, around 55,000 MBBS doctors and 25,000 PG doctors pass out from 412 medical colleges.

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