NEW DELHI : The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the contentious National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill, 2019, calling it one of the biggest reforms in medical education in India. The bill proposes to repeal the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, and set up an NMC replacing the Medical Council of India (MCI), which was dissolved in 2010 following corruption charges against MCI president Ketan Desai by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The bill faced major opposition and criticism in Lok Sabha and more than 5,000 doctors hit the streets in protest.

Union minister of health and family welfare Harsh Vardhan moved the bill in the Lok Sabha on Monday. The genuine concerns over the NMC bill, approved by the Union cabinet earlier this month, have been addressed, Harsh Vardhan said. The legislation will be one of the biggest reforms, the minister claimed.

The bill was passed 260-48 by a voice vote, amid a walkout by Opposition Congress, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and the Trinamool Congress.

Several amendments moved by Opposition members were rejected. “As the government is not keen on passing any amendment suggested by us, we are walking out as we oppose it tooth and nail," said Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha.

The NMC will, according to the bill, approve and assess medical colleges, conduct common MBBS entrance and exit examinations, and regulate course fees. The bill proposes a common final-year MBBS exam, the National Exit Test (NEXT), before an individual starts practising medicine and for seeking admission to post-graduate medical courses. It will also be a screening test for foreign medical graduates. NMC will also regulate fees and all other charges for 50% of the seats in private medical colleges and deemed universities.

“By bringing the bill the basic intention of the government is to ensure and restore utmost standard of integrity in medical education. This will also end the inspector raj in the system," Harsh Vardhan said.

The legislation is “pro-poor" and would bring government seats and 50% of all private seats within the reach of meritorious students belonging to economically weaker sections of society, he said.

DMK leader A. Raja said the bill is “anti-poor, anti-social justice, undemocratic and anti-federalism". He also said that it would encourage corruption and nepotism in the medical profession.

Trinamool Congress member Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, too, said the bill is against the basic principle of federalism and would jeopardize the future of students. “The exit exam would put undue pressure on students. This is unwarranted and a shame," she said.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has claimed that replacing the MCI with another body may just result in people coming up with new forms of corruption. The bill was referred to a parliamentary select committee after more than 5,000 doctors, medical students, and healthcare professionals joined the IMA’s call for protests from across the country against the NMC bill on Monday, marching from the All India Institute Of Medical Sciences to Nirman Bhawan in New Delhi. The medical fraternity also burnt thousands of copies of the bill across the nation.

IMA has alleged that the bill is “anti-poor and anti-students" since it was placed before Parliament in 2017. “The NMC is the worst bill ever introduced in the medical education system. The current version has only undergone cosmetic changes as the core concerns raised by the medical fraternity remain unaddressed," Santanu Sen, national president, IMA, said.

The IMA is also opposing other provisions in the bill, including the merging of NEXT with the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test, besides regulation of fees by NMC for 50% seats in private medical colleges and deemed universities.

“Medical education in the country will become expensive, placing the lower socio-economic groups in great disadvantage," R.V. Asokan, secretary general, IMA, said.

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