Addressing the parliament on July 4, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa deemed the fast-unto-death of Dr Govinda KC, who has long been campaigning for cheap and reliable healthcare for all Nepalis, an “authoritarian tendency”. In his view, while some of Dr KC’s demands may have merit, the way he has gone about forcing the government to meet those demands most certainly is not. But the home minister was skating on thin ice. Dr KC was forced into the latest round of fasting, his 15th, after the government tried to fast-track a watered down Medical Education Bill through the parliament. The passage of the bill would have undone virtually all the reforms that Dr KC has been campaigning for in the past five years. The bad intent was evident in the way the government suspended due parliamentary process in the haste to pass the bill. The government had removed from the bill some crucial provisions: ban on opening of new medical colleges in Kathmandu valley, capping at five the number of medical college a university can oversee, provision for all medical colleges to set aside 75 percent of their seats for scholarships, and restriction on licensing of medical colleges that don’t have their own hospitals.
Civil society leaders have predictably slammed the government move. Kedar Bhakta Mathema, the coordinator of the team that had proposed the aforementioned reforms, said the government was trying to “deceive people” by saying that the new bill was in keeping with the demands of Dr KC. Former Chief Justice Sushila Karki accused the government of “showing authoritarian bent” and trying to “promote anomalies” in medical education. The refusal of the government to give Dr KC a proper place to protest, a democratic right of all Nepalis, has also raised concerns.
It is clear that the only reason the proposed medical education reforms have not been enacted is that powerful politicians belonging to the ruling Nepal Communist Party have big stakes in private medical education, and any attempt to strengthen public medical education hurts their business interests. Whether or not one supports Dr KC’s method of protest, it is hard to argue against his end goals. As the constitution explicitly states, each and every Nepali has the right to affordable and quality healthcare. To try to deny them this basic right is a criminal offense.