The Medical Council of India (MCI) has seen a few major controversies over the past decade. In the latest incident, MCI President, Dr. Ketan Desai was arrested by the CBI on charges of accepting a bribe for granting recognition to Gyan Sagar Medical College in Punjab. Following this incident, the central government promulgated an ordinance dissolving the MCI and replacing it with a centrally nominated seven member board. The ordinance requires MCI to be re-constituted within one year of its dissolution in accordance with the provisions of the original Act. Background The Medical Council of India was first established in 1934 under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1933. This Act was repealed and replaced with a new Act in 1956. Under the 1956 Act, the objectives of MCI include:
Over the years, several committees, the most recent being the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) and the Yashpal Committee, have commented on the need for reforms in medical regulation in the country. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoH&FW) has recently released a draft of the National Council for Human Resources in Health (NCHRH) Bill for public feedback. (See http://mohfw.nic.in/nchrc-health.htm) Key issues in Medical Regulation Oversight Currently, separate regulatory bodies oversee the different healthcare disciplines. These include the Medical Council of India, the Indian Nursing Council, the Dental Council of India, the Rehabilitation Council of India and the Pharmacy Council of India. Each Council regulates both education and professional practice within its domain. The draft NCHRH Bill proposes to create an overarching body to subsume these councils into a single structure. This new body, christened the National Council for Human Resources in Health (NCHRH) is expected to encourage cross connectivity across these different health-care disciplines. Role of Councils Both the NKC and the Yashpal Committee make a case for separating regulation of medical education from that of profession. It is recommended that the current councils be divested of their education responsibilities and that these work solely towards regulation of professionals – prescribing a code of ethics, ensuring compliance, and facilitating continued medical education. In addition, it has been recommended that a national exit level examination be conducted. This exit examination should then serve the purpose of ‘occupational licensing’, unlike the prevalent registration system that automatically grants practice rights to graduating professionals. In effect, it is envisaged that the system be reconfigured on the lines of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, wherein the council restricts itself to regulating the profession, but has an indirect say in education through its requirements on the exit examination. A common national examination is also expected to ensure uniformity in quality across the country. Both committees also recommend enlisting independent accrediting agencies for periodically evaluating medical colleges on pre-defined criteria and making this information available to the public (including students). This is expected to bring more transparency into the system. Supervision of education – HRD vs. H&FW The Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD) is proposing a National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) to regulate all university education. However, MoH&FW is of the opinion that Medical Education is a specialized field and needs focused attention, and hence should be regulated separately. However, it is worth noting that both the NKC and the Yashpal Committee recommend transferring education overseeing responsibilities to the NCHER. Internationally, different models exist across countries. In the US, the Higher Education Act, 1965 had transferred all education responsibilities to the Department of Education. In the UK, both medical education and profession continue to be regulated by the General Medical Council (the MCI counterpart), which is different from the regulator for Higher Education. Composition of Councils In 2007-08, MCI, when fully constituted, was a 129 member body. The Ministry in its draft NCHRH Bill makes a case for reducing this size. The argument advanced is that such a large size makes the council unwieldy in character and hence constrains reform. In 2007-08, 71% of the members in the committee were elected. These represented universities and doctors registered across the country. However, the Standing Committee on H&FW report (2006) points out that delays in conducting elections usually leads to several vacancies in this category, thereby reducing the actual percentage of elected members. MCI’s 2007-08 annual report mentions that at the time of publishing the report, 29 seats (32% of elected category) were vacant due to ‘various reasons like expiry of term, non-election of a member, non-existence of medical faculty of certain Universities’. In November 2001, the Delhi High Court set aside the election of Dr. Ketan Desai as President of the MCI, stating that he had been elected under a ‘flawed constitution’. The central government had failed to ensure timely conduct of elections to the MCI. As a result, a number of seats were lying vacant. The Court ordered that the MCI be reconstituted at the earliest and appointed an administrator to oversee the functioning of the MCI until this was done. Several countries like the UK are amending their laws to make council membership more broad-based by including ‘lay-members’/ non-doctors. The General Medical Council in the UK was recently reconstituted and it now comprises of 24 members - 12 ‘lay’ and 12 medical members. (See http://www.gmc-uk.org/about/council.asp) Way ahead According to latest news reports, the MoH&FW is currently revising the draft Bill. Let's wait and see how the actual legislation shapes up. Watch this space for further updates!
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.