A group of Private Medical Colleges, on Monday, challenged the constitutional validity of Section 10 of the National Medical Commission Act 2019 and an office memorandum issued pursuant to the Act by the National Medical Commission directing all private medical colleges to charge a fee equivalent to that charged by the Government in 50% seats of these institutions.
The matter was heard by the bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice N Mala.
The National Medical Commission (NMC) Act, 2019 which repealed the earlier Indian Medical Council Act 1956, provided for the constitution of a National Medical Commission to exercise the powers conferred upon, and to perform the functions assigned to it, under the Act. Section 10 of the Act gave power to the Commission to 'frame guidelines for determination of fees and all other charges in respect of fifty percent of seats in private medical Institutions and deemed to be Universities which are governed under the provisions of this Act'.
Pursuant to these powers, the NMC constituted an expert committee that recommended draft guidelines for the determination of fees for the medical UG/PG courses and other charges in respect of private medical colleges and deemed to be Universities. The NMC then issued an Office Memorandum providing detailed guidelines for the fixation of fees and other charges.
The office memorandum also directed that fee of the 50% seats in the private medical colleges and deemed Universities should be at part with the fee in the Government medical colleges of that particular State & UT. These benefits would first be made applicable to those candidates who have availed Government quota seats and where these seats were less than 50%, the remaining candidates could avail of this benefit purely on merit.
The petitioners challenged the validity of Section 10(1)(i) of the Act and the memorandum issued pursuant to the same contending that the same violated the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution to establish and administer educational institutions. They also contended that it would result in cross-subsidizing education as some students will be compelled to pay for the education of others.
Senior Advocate Vijay Narayan, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that giving such powers to the NMC would in effect result in the nationalization of private educational institutions. It'll also be against the precedents set by the Supreme Court wherein it has been repeatedly held that if a private institution chooses not to seek any aid from the Government, it should be left to determine the scale of fee it can charge, subject to the prohibition on collecting capitation fee or profiteering.
The petitioners also contended that even if Section 10(1)(i) of the NMC Act was held to be valid, the office memorandum issued by the NMC would still be arbitrary, null, and void. The Act gave powers to the NMC to frame 'guidelines' for the determination of fees in respect of 50% of the seats and not to "decide" the fee itself.
Pandian also submitted that the fee charged by the Government was heavily subsidized out of tax payer's money and the fee paid by the students was not commensurate with the expenses involved. However, in the case of private self-financing institutions, such subsidization was impossible as they were completely reliant upon the income through fees to run the Institution.
While hearing the matter, the Chief Justice also took serious note of the manner of private medical college giving admissions to unworthy candidates purely for monetary gains.
"Any other course, we can compromise. But if we're compromising on medicine, we're compromising on ourselves"
The Chief Justice also cited an instance where a candidate securing one mark in the state-level entrance exam was given admission in a private medical college based on the mark he had obtained in a private entrance examination. Though the CBI had taken up investigation in that case, the court was displeased with the fact that no action was taken against the College by the Medical Council of India (MCI)
The matter has been posted to August 16th for further hearing
Case Title: Melmaruvathur Adhiparasakthi Institute of Medical Sciences v. Union of India and others
Case No: WP No. 17966 of 2022