Thursday, July 17, 2014

Law without teeth leaves medical colleges free to collect capitation fee

The history of medical education in Tamil Nadu is 160 years old, and private medical colleges have been in existence for several decades. The state legislation banning collection of capitation fee for courses came into being more than 22 years ago. During this period not a single person or institution offering MBBS/BDS courses has been found guilty of collecting capitation fee or donation from parents.

"Our hands are tied by invisible forces, ably assisted by top lawyers. Once stayed, the case remains stuck for years, with the statutory bodies showing least interest in getting the interim restraint orders vacated. A vicious circle of poor laws, poorer enforcement and worst prosecution, further compounded by casual interference by higher judicial forums, have allowed the rot in medical education to develop deep roots," a subordinate judicial officer who handled a capitation fee case told TOI.

Till 2009 — perhaps due to absence of strong complaints or lack of evidence — no enforcement agency or court could lay a hand on people or prosecute them for the scourge. In June 2009, a joint sting operation conducted by news channel Times Now and The Times of India yielded by far the strongest evidence to prove that the capitation fee menace had grown in size and that college authorities were quoting between Rs. 2 million and Rs. 4 million for an MBBS seat. Following public and political outrage, CBI took up the matter. But now, Madras high court has quashed the proceedings against a private university official saying he was not a public servant to stand trial under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

"Now we are back to square one. The state maintains its 'clean' record — there are no official acts of donation demands, and so far no one has been found guilty and punished for the offence," said a law officer who is worried about the fate of three other cases pending in the high court. Asked about the Tamil Nadu Educational Institutions (Prohibition of Collection of Capitation Fee) Act, 1992, for which rules have not yet been framed, a former advocate-general of Tamil Nadu said one need not wait for the new law to take effect to act against offenders. "There are Supreme Court judgments, especially the Pai Foundation case, and a host of statutory bodies empowered to initiate penal proceedings against donation-demanding institutions," he said.

"But coming across a strong complaint is a problem. Thanks to the skewed demand-supply scenario in medical education, with the latter outstripping the former, parents are happy to get seats for a 'reasonable' donation," said advocate Dr M Anthony Selavaraj of Masum Associates. The proposed Act sounds pretty tough, he said, pointing out that as per the 1992 legislation, "whoever contravenes the provisions of this Act or the rule made thereunder shall, on conviction be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years and with fine which may extend to Rs. 5,000."

It was because there are no specific rules prohibiting the practice or prescribing the mode of prosecution that the CBI perhaps stopped with invoking the Prevention of Corruption Act provisions against the private university officials caught on tape in 2009, said a prosecutor, adding, "besides the general penal code, there is a special Act and statutory provisions governing statutory bodies such as the Medical Council of India (MCI) and the University Grants Commission (UGC), to be invoked against offenders. As such only a negligible number of cases are registered. When even they are quashed or stayed by judicial forums, it frustrates serious enforcers and prosecutors," said a judicial officer said, adding that he was unable to proceed further, as the high court has stayed it.

Source: The Times of India, July 17, 2014

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