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://220.127.116.11/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.
The National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021 is listed for passage in Rajya Sabha today. It was passed by Lok Sabha last week. The Bill creates a regulatory framework for anti-doping rule violations in sports. It was examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports, and some of their recommendations have been incorporated in the Bill passed by Lok Sabha.
Doping is the consumption of certain prohibited substances by athletes to enhance performance. Across the world, doping is regulated and monitored by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which is an independent international agency established in 1999. WADA’s primary role is to develop, harmonise, and coordinate anti-doping regulations across all sports and countries. It does so by ensuring proper implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADA Code) and its standards. In this blog post, we discuss the need of the framework proposed by the Bill, and give insights from the discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha.
Doping in India
Recently, two Indian athletes failed the doping test and are facing provisional suspension. In the past also, Indian athletes have been found in violation of anti-doping rules. In 2019, according to WADA, most of the doping rule violations were committed by athletes from Russia (19%), followed by Italy (18%), and India (17%). Most of the doping rule violations were committed in bodybuilding (22%), followed by athletics (18%), cycling (14%), and weightlifting (13%). In order to curb doping in sports, WADA requires all countries to have a framework regulating anti-doping activities managed by their respective National Anti-Doping Organisations.
Currently, doping in India is regulated by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), which was established in 2009 as an autonomous body under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. One issue with the existing framework is that the anti-doping rules are not backed by a legislation and are getting challenged in courts. Further, NADA is imposing sanctions on athletes without a statutory backing. Taking into account such instances, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2021) had recommended that the Department of Sports bring in an anti-doping legislation. Other countries such as the USA, UK, Germany, and Japan have enacted legislations to regulate anti-doping activities.
Framework proposed by the National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021
The Bill seeks to constitute NADA as a statutory body headed by a Director General appointed by the central government. Functions of the Agency include planning, implementing and monitoring anti-doping activities, and investigating anti-doping rule violations. A National Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel will be set up for determining consequences of anti-doping rule violations. This panel will consist of legal experts, medical practitioners, and retired athletes. Further, the Board will constitute an Appeal Panel to hear appeals against decisions of the Disciplinary Panel. Athletes found in violation of anti-doping rules may be subject to: (i) disqualification of results including forfeiture of medals, points, and prizes, (ii) ineligibility to participate in a competition or event for a prescribed period, (iii) financial sanctions, and (iv) other consequences as may be prescribed. Consequences for team sports will be specified by regulations.
Initially, the Bill did not have provisions for protected athletes but after the Standing Committee’s recommendation, provisions for such athletes have been included in the Bill. Protected persons will be specified by the central government. As per the WADA Code, a protected person is someone: (i) below the age of 16, or (ii) below the age of 18 and has not participated in any international competition in an open category, or (iii) lacks legal capacity as per their country’s legal framework
Issues and discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha
During the discussion on the Bill, members highlighted several issues. We discuss these below-
Independence of NADA
One of the issues highlighted was the independence of the Director General of NADA. WADA requires National Doping Organisations to be independent in their functioning as they may experience external pressure from their governments and national sports bodies which could compromise their decisions. First, under the Bill, the qualifications of the Director General are not specified and are left to be notified through Rules. Second, the central government may remove the Director General from the office on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity or “such other ground”. Leaving these provisions to the discretion of the central government may affect the independence of NADA.
Privacy of athletes
NADA will have the power to collect certain personal data of athletes such as: (a) sex or gender, (ii) medical history, and (iii) whereabout information of athletes (for out of competition testing and collection of samples). MPs expressed concerns about maintaining the privacy of athletes. The Union Sports Minister in his response, assured the House that all international privacy standards will be followed during collection and sharing of data. Data will be shared with only relevant authorities.
Under the Bill, NADA will collect and use personal data of athletes in accordance with the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information. It is one of the eight ‘mandatory’ standards of the World Anti-Doping Code. One of the amendments moved by the Union Sports Minister removed the provision relating to compliance with the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information.
Establishing more testing laboratories across states
Currently India has one National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL). MPs raised the demand to establish testing laboratories across states to increase testing capacity. The Minister responded by saying that if required in the future, the government will establish more testing laboratories across states. Further, in order to increase testing capacity, private labs may also be set up. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2022) also emphasised the need to open more dope testing laboratories, preferably one in each state, to cater to the need of the country and become a leader in the South East Asia region in the areas of anti-doping science and education.
In August, 2019 a six-month suspension was imposed on NDTL for not complying with International Standard for Laboratories (ISL) by WADA. The suspension was extended for another six months in July, 2020 due to non-conformity with ISL. The second suspension was to remain in effect until the Laboratory complies with ISL. However, the suspension was extended for another six months in January, 2021 as COVID-19 impacted WADA’s ability to conduct an on-site assessment of the Laboratory. In December, 2021 WADA reinstated the accreditation of NDTL.
Several athletes in India are not aware about the anti-doping rules and the prohibited substances. Due to lack of awareness, they end up consuming prohibited substances through supplements. MPs highlighted the need to conduct more awareness campaigns around anti-doping. The Minister informed the House that in the past one year, NADA has conducted about 100 hybrid workshops relating to awareness on anti-doping. The Bill will enable NADA to conduct more awareness campaigns and research in anti-doping. Further, the central government is working with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to test dietary supplements consumed by athletes.
While examining the Bill, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2022) recommended several measures to improve and strengthen the antidoping ecosystem in the country. These measures include: (i) enforcing regulatory action towards labelling and use of ‘dope-free’ certified supplements, and (ii) mandating ‘dope-free’ certification by independent bodies for supplements consumed by athletes.