Dr Govinda KC had no option but to start yet another fast-onto-death, his 16th, this time from Ilam in the eastern hills. He had promised to do so if the federal parliament’s Education and Health Committee did not endorse the version of the Medical Education Bill that was prepared in consultation with the crusading orthopedic surgeon. On Jan 9, the committee endorsed a different version of the bill, in which key points in the previous version were tweaked mendaciously. Ergo, Dr KC’s 16th hunger strike.
Among the major tweaks was an insertion of a provision whereby both Tribhuvan University and Kathmandu University will be able to grant affiliations to new medical colleges. Dr KC wanted to cap the number of medical colleges each could oversee at five. Short of both money and manpower, the two universities are struggling to effectively monitor even the operational medical colleges under their jurisdiction. Another tweak clears the way for the prospective medical colleges that have already obtained a ‘letter of intent’ from the Ministry of Education to get new affiliations.
The bill the committee passed is also missing a firm commitment to establish at least one medical college in each of the seven provinces, which was another of Dr KC’s main demands. Clearly, the mighty ‘medical mafia’ that the doctor likes to rail against has once again prevailed. Senior ruling party leaders have invested in many of the proposed medical colleges and stand to personally benefit from the tweaks in the Medical Education Bill. In the parliamentary committee that cleared it, 14 of the 18 members were from the Nepal Communist Party. Such conflict of interest has become a routine affair for the communist-controlled executive and legislative.
It is depressing to see people’s representatives serving themselves rather than their constituencies. This, again, is nothing new. But we expected better of the strongest government in Nepal’s democratic history, which came to power on the promise of ‘prosperity for all’. The first commitment of the avowed socialists should have been to ensure affordable healthcare and education for all Nepalis. Yet an ageing and frail doctor has had to repeatedly put his life on the line to remind the government of its basic duty. If the ruling party wants to retain public support, the full parliament should reject the bill and spare Dr KC yet another ordeal.
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