The Madras High Court on Friday directed the National Medical Commission (NMC) to reconsider an office memorandum issued by it on February 3 insisting that the fee for 50% of the seats at deemed-to-be universities and self-financing medical colleges be on a par with the fee collected by government medical colleges in the respective State or Union Territory.
Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice N. Mala ordered that a fresh memorandum be issued at the earliest and made it clear that the existing fee structure should continue until the NMC reconsiders the issue in the light of certain negative aspects that may crop up owing to collection of very low fees from 50% of the students and exorbitant fees from the others.
The judges said the NMC had issued the February 3 memorandum based on the report of an expert committee which had failed to consider the possibility of the poor students, who could not gain a seat on merit for lack of coaching, ending up subsidizing the fees for rich students who might gain a seat on merit by undertaking private coaching classes.
“The aforesaid may have a serious consequence because the poor may subsidize the fee of the rich, as fee structure for 50% of the seats would be on a par with the fee in the government medical colleges and obviously those seats would be taken by the students who secured merit position. This aspect has not been taken into consideration,” the Division Bench wrote.
Though Additional Solicitor-General R. Sankaranarayanan contended that the intention of the NMC was to regulate the fee structure for the management quota seats in the self-financing colleges and deemed-to-be universities, the judges said, “We do not find a clarification of that nature in the February 3 office memorandum.”
They also said that when the private institutions had no choice but to collect exorbitant fees from 50% of the students in order to subsidize the education for the rest, there was always a possibility of some students not being able to take up seats allotted to them because of their inability to pay such high fees. Ultimately, those seats might go vacant.
“This would result in sacrificing merit too because if a meritorious candidate is unable to pay high fees, the seat would get allotted to the next candidate in the merit list and the worst scenario would be when no candidate down the merit list is ready to take the burden of paying high fee and if the seat remains vacant, it would be a loss to the institution and the nation,” the Bench said.
This aspect too had not been considered by the expert committee and therefore the NMC must re-look into its memorandum, the judges added. They said that if the intention of Parliament was to fix the fee structure for all seats and not just 50% of the seats, the National Medical Commission Act, 2019, would have to be amended accordingly.
Authoring the verdict, the Chief Justice, however, upheld the constitutional validity of Section 10 (1)(i) of the NMC Act under which the office memorandum had been issued. The provision empowers the NMC to frame guidelines for determination of fees and other charges in respect of 50% of the seats in private medical institutions and deemed-to-be universities.
He held that the provision does not offend any of the provisions of the Constitution. He also rejected the argument that the provision would not apply to deemed-to-be universities and ruled that the NMC Act, being a special law on medical education, would override the general provisions of the University Grants Commission regulations.
The Chief Justice said the fee structure at the deemed universities should also be regulated to avoid “exploitation of students”. The verdict was passed while the court disposed of a batch of writ petitions filed by a host of self-financing medical colleges and deemed universities from Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
They had challenged the constitutional validity of Section 10(1)(i) of the Act as well as the February 3 office memorandum. Their prime argument was that the NMC could only issue guidelines and not directives fixing the fees for 50% of the seats. They also argued that it would not be possible for private institutions to collect the highly subsidised government college fees from 50% of the students.