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'Incompetent, inefficient or corrupt'? 'Rigged' Medical Council of India (MCI) election under SC scanner [SCOI REPORT]

Doctors: Trustworthy?
Doctors: Trustworthy?

Ex-Medical Council of India (MCI) president Dr Ketan Desai is facing a Supreme Court probe into all manner of allegations into the future of the profession’s regulator.

The three-member Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice HL Dattu and Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy yesterday (17 August) gave a final opportunity to the Medical Council of India (MCI), Union Health Ministry and ex-MCI president, Dr Ketan Desai to file their response affidavit within four weeks and fixed 4 November 2015 for the final hearing in the PIL against the rigged MCI election held in December, 2013 and seeking a CBI investigation of the MCI election (People for Better Treatment through its president, Kunal Saha vs Union of India).

The court, on 3rd November, 2014, had issued notices to the MCI and other respondents after the petitioners lodged specific allegation of widespread rigging and manipulation of the MCI election by Desai and his supporters most of whom are now occupying top positions in the MCI

When this matter came up for hearing last June, MCI sought 4 weeks time to file their response. The two other respondents (Desai and Health Ministry) also did not file any response until now. The MCI again sought additional time to file their response yesterday (17 August). Although the SC granted them 4 more weeks, it has made clear that no further adjournment would be granted by fixing it for final hearing on 4th November.

According to the petitioner, Dr. Kunal Saha, if the serious allegations against the MCI were based on frivolous ground, MCI, Health Ministry and Desai would have responded promptly to clear their names or filed charges against PBT One must wonder why MCI and Health Ministry are simply trying to delay this PIL unless they are aware that the MCI election was rigged, he suggested. He further alleged that if the last MCI election was indeed rigged by Desai and his cronies, the highest medical regulatory body for control of medical education and practice of medicine in India has been continuing to regulate the healthcare system through corrupt and unlawfully elected doctors.

Senior advocate MN Krishnamani argued this case on behalf of Saha.

According to the petition, the composition of the MCI, wherein nominated members predominate, is an inherent factor which facilitates rigging.

In March 2001, Desai, then president of MCI, was removed from his post on charges of corruption by the Delhi high court. In March 2009, he returned to MCI and was reelected “unopposed” as MCI president.

In April 2010, Desai was caught red-handed by the CBI in a sting operation while taking bribe from a private medical college. The entire MCI with more than 100 members was dissolved by health ministry on ground of widespread corruption. A seven-member Board of Governors was established through an Ordinance to run MCI

In October 2010, Desai’s medical registration was suspended indefinitely by BOG in response to a complaint lodged by Saha.

In October 2013, the health ministry declared that a new MCI would be established with members elected/nominated from different states/universities in accordance with Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013.

Desai managed to get himself nominated as a member of MCI from Gujarat University while still awaiting his criminal trial to begin, and with his license under suspension by MCI However, Desai’s name was not forwarded to the health ministry to be published in the official Gazette for becoming an official member of the new MCI

The petition states that out of a total of 58 names published in the official Gazette dated November 6, 2013, only seven members were “elected” by other registered physicians in different states under the 2013 ordinance. Almost all members who managed to win “unopposed” the top positions in the new MCI including the present MCI president and vice-president were “nominated” by the government.

Saha has challenged Section 3 of the Indian Medical Council Act 1956 as well as the 2013 Ordinance under which the MCI election was held on December 10, 2013, as violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. By virtue of Section 3 of the Act, MCI president/vice-president and important Executive Committee members were elected on December 10, 2013 by members majority of whom were “nominated” and not “elected” representatives from different states.

In his petition, Saha has alleged that on the night before the election, on December 9, 2013, a dinner party in the presence of Desai, was held, to mount pressure on the newly-elected/nominated MCI members (electorates), to support a list of names, all of whom were elected “unopposed” next day. This, according to Saha, was an unlawful attempt to obstruct the course of a fair and impartial election, and also constituted a deliberate act of intimidation to rig the election.

MCI plays a key role in the functioning of the entire healthcare delivery system and has a direct effect on the quality of life for every citizen living in India.

Desai, who was in jail for almost seven months, has been on bail since late 2010, waiting to stand trial on serious charges of bribery and corruption. According to the petition, his continuing influence on the MCI will erode dwindling public trust on doctors further.

Saha has averred in his petition that an incompetent, inefficient or corrupt MCI would not only pose serious danger to public health, it would also violate fundamental right to life for all citizens which is guaranteed under Article 21.

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