The National Medical Commission Bill, 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha recently and is listed for consideration and passage today. The Bill seeks to regulate medical education and practice in India. To meet this objective, the Bill repeals the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and dissolves the current Medical Council of India (MCI). The MCI was established under the 1956 Act, to establish uniform standards of higher education qualifications in medicine and regulating its practice.
A Committee was set up in 2016, under the NITI Aayog with Dr. Arvind Panagariya as its chair, to review the 1956 Act and recommend changes to improve medical education and the quality of doctors in India. The Committee proposed that the Act be replaced by a new law, and also proposed a draft Bill in August 2016.
This post looks at the key provisions of the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017 introduced in Lok Sabha recently, and some issues which have been raised over the years regarding the regulation of medical education and practice in the country.
What are the key issues regarding the regulation of medical education and practice?
Several experts have examined the functioning of the MCI and suggested a different structure and governance system for its regulatory powers.3, Some of the issues raised by them include:
Separation of regulatory powers
Over the years, the MCI has been criticised for its slow and unwieldy functioning owing to the concentration and centralisation of all regulatory functions in one single body. This is because the Council regulates medical education as well as medical practice. In this context, there have been recommendations that all professional councils like the MCI, should be divested of their academic functions, which should be subsumed under an apex body for higher education to be called the National Commission for Higher Education and Research. This way there would be a separation between the regulation of medical education from regulation of medical practice.
An Expert Committee led by Prof. Ranjit Roy Chaudhury (2015), recommended structurally reconfiguring the MCI’s functions and suggested the formation of a National Medical Commission through a new Act.3 Here, the National Medical Commission would be an umbrella body for supervision of medical education and oversight of medial practice. It will have four segregated verticals under it to look at: (i) under-graduate medical education, (ii) post-graduate medical education, (iii) accreditation of medical institutions, and (iv) the registration of doctors. The 2017 Bill also creates four separate autonomous bodies for similar functions.
Composition of MCI
With most members of the MCI being elected, the NITI Aayog Committee (2016) noted the conflict of interest where the regulated elect the regulators, preventing the entry of skilled professionals for the job. The Committee recommended that a framework must be set up under which regulators are appointed through an independent selection process instead.
The NITI Aayog Committee (2016) recommended that a medical regulatory authority, such as the MCI, should not engage in fee regulation of private colleges. Such regulation of fee by regulatory authorities may encourage an underground economy for medical education seats with capitation fees (any payment in excess of the regular fee), in regulated private colleges. Further, the Committee stated that having a fee cap may discourage the entry of private colleges limiting the expansion of medical education in the country.
The Standing Committee on Health (2016) observed that the present focus of the MCI is only on licensing of medical colleges.4 There is no emphasis given to the enforcement of medical ethics in education and on instances of corruption noted within the MCI. In light of this, the Committee recommended that the areas of medical education and medical practice should be separated in terms of enforcement of the appropriate ethics for each of these stages.
What does the National Medical Commission, 2017 Bill seek do to?
The 2017 Bill sets up the National Medical Commission (NMC) as an umbrella regulatory body with certain other bodies under it. The NMC will subsume the MCI and will regulate the medical education and practice in India. Under the Bill, states will establish their respective State Medical Councils within three years. These Councils will have a role similar to the NMC, at the state level.
Functions of the NMC include: (i) laying down policies for regulating medical institutions and medical professionals, (ii) assessing the requirements of human resources and infrastructure in healthcare, (iii) ensuring compliance by the State Medical Councils with the regulations made under the Bill, and (iv) framing guidelines for determination of fee for up to 40% of the seats in the private medical institutions and deemed universities which are governed by the Bill.
Who will be a part of the NMC?
The NMC will consist of 25 members, appointed by the central government. It will include representatives from Indian Council of Medical Research, and Directorate General of Health Services. A search committee will recommend names to the central government for the post of Chairperson, and the part-time members. These posts will have a maximum term of four years, and will not be eligible for extension or reappointment.
What are the regulatory bodies being set up under the NMC?
The Bill sets up four autonomous boards under the supervision of the NMC, as recommended by various experts. Each autonomous board will consist of a President and two members, appointed by the central government (on the recommendation of the search committee). These bodies are:
What does the Bill say regarding the conduct of medical entrance examinations?
There will be a uniform National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to under-graduate medical education in all medical institutions governed by the Bill. The NMC will specify the manner of conducting common counselling for admission in all such medical institutions.
Further, there will be a National Licentiate Examination for the students graduating from medical institutions to obtain the license for practice. This Examination will also serve as the basis for admission into post-graduate courses at medical institutions.
 The National Medical Commission Bill, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/medical%20commission/National%20Medical%20Commission%20Bill,%202017.pdf.
 Indian Medical Council Act, 1933.
 A Preliminary Report of the Committee on the Reform of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, NITI Aayog, August 7, 2016, http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/MCI%20Report%20.pdf.
 “Report no. 92: Functioning of the Medical Council of India”, Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, March 8, 2016, http://188.8.131.52/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20Health%20and%20Family%20Welfare/92.pdf
 “Report of the Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education”, Ministry of Human Resource Development, 2009, http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/YPC-Report.pdf.
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.