Frontline Volume 20 - Issue 23, November, 08 - 21, 2003
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THE STATES

A bonanza of seats

RAVI SHARMA
in Bangalore

The Karnataka government's new gazette notification changes the seat matrix in favour of private dental colleges, allowing the managements a whopping 80 per cent share of the post-graduate seats.

K. GOPINATHAN

At a dental college in Bangalore. The Karnataka government, through a gazette notification on October 10, has directed that for the current academic year, post-graduate seats in dentistry in private colleges be filled up in the 80:20 ratio.

WHAT private managements running professional colleges in Karnataka may have lost when they `sacrificed' 25 per cent of their share of the seats (they are entitled to 50 per cent of seats in their colleges as per the directions of the Supreme Court in T.M.A Pai Foundation vs State of Karnataka) in favour of the Karnataka government, they have certainly made good through wide concessions offered by a more than obliging S.M. Krishna government. Concessions, which legal experts aver are tantamount to contempt of court, violative as they are of the directives given in the T.M.A Pai case (delivered on October 31, 2002) and in Islamic Academy of Education vs State of Karnataka (given on August 14). In both cases the court went into the semantics of professional education in the private sector - chiefly the banning of capitation fees in any form, the methodology to draw up a list of merit, the fee structure and the sharing of seats (seat matrix) between the government and the private managements.

For one, private managements have been able to pressure the government and the university authorities to turn a blind eye to the process they had adopted in admitting students to their share of seats. Contrary to the Supreme Court order, no common admission test was conducted and no order of merit drawn up. Seats were handed out for other considerations, chiefly the paying power of the students. And worse still, most private managements collected fees far in excess of what had been prescribed, with many institutions even taking the entire course fees in advance (Frontline, October 10).

Further, a complaisant State government, through a gazette notification (No. HFW 10 MPS 2003) dated October 10, has directed that for the current academic year, post-graduate seats in dentistry in private colleges be filled up in the 80:20 ratio - 80 per cent of the seats to be allotted by the managements and 20 per cent by the government, thereby giving the managements 30 per cent in excess of what they would otherwise be entitled to. According to the notification, the managements are now entitled to 331 of the 413 seats available in the 17 private colleges. With dental PG seats in private colleges costing anywhere between Rs.6 lakhs and Rs.40 lakhs (this is apart from the government prescribed annual fees of Rs.1.45 lakhs), the managements are laughing all the way to the bank.

Almost all private colleges have gone ahead (though some are still advertising their `extra' seats) and filled their share of seats. A professor at a leading dental college in Bangalore said: "The entrance test conducted by a college was just an eyewash. Students were informed about the test just a day before it was to be conducted. When the students assembled, each one was asked how much he or she could pay. The list was then drawn up."

When this correspondent called the office of a college management in Mangalore, he was told that PG seats were available and that the package for the entire (PG in oral surgery) course would be Rs.20 lakhs, with payment to be made upfront. The Supreme Court had specified that fees should only be taken for one semester/year.

The government will now be entitled to 82 management seats beside the 21 that are available in Karnataka's sole government dental college. But with in-service candidates (those already serving in the government), candidates from the all-India quota and the various reservation categories taking up a little over 50 seats, candidates in the merit category will have to be content with fewer than 50 seats.

The government, according to Minister for Higher Education Dr. G. Parameshwara (he is closely associated with the running of private professional educational institutions), has no choice since the Supreme Court had on March 12, 2003, ordered the status quo (80:20 in favour of managements) be maintained till such time that writ petitions reverted to the High Court were disposed of. And that while deciding admissions, all statutory enactments, regulations and schemes shall be brought in line with the Pai judgment.

But according to dental PG aspirants - 1,307 students took the entrance examination conducted by the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences (RGUHS) - the government's stand is flawed in law and it did have a choice. In fact it had issued a gazette notification - No. HFW (Health and Family Welfare)/44 MPS 2003 (1) - in July with regard to admission to post-graduate medical and dental degree and diploma courses. The gazette had in part specified that 50 per cent of the sanctioned intake of all PG seats (branch-wise) in privately run medical and dental institutions be handed over to the government for allotment. Which would be done as per the merit list drawn up on the basis of the candidate's performance in the PG entrance test conducted by the RGUHS. The managements would be free to allot the remaining 50 per cent of the seats (branch-wise). The gazette, after its draft had been made available for the mandatory period during which persons affected could raise objections, was notified on July 3.

Said an aspirant, "The dental PG entrance examination was conducted in June. In July the government issued the gazette. In August a meeting was held between the government and the managements. But after that nothing was done to decide the seat matrix. Why this delay? Students who have got admissions through the management quota have already started attending classes, but we are still waiting. October 31 is the last date for the payment of fees with penalty at the allotted colleges, but counselling only starts on October 31.''

Academics question the government's dual stand vis-a-vis medical and dental PG admissions and change of stand and the issue of a new notification (switching from 50:50 to 80:20) after a college (the Bapuji Dental College, Davanagere) had requested the status quo. Nor was a draft of the October notification published, so for that affected persons could raise objections. They also question Parameshwara's contention that the directions in the T.M.A Pai case cannot be applied to PG admissions. They contend that the verdict encompasses all forms of professional education, and that the main issues - seat sharing, fee structure and entrance test - were the same.

Legal experts feel that the government cannot site the Supreme Court's directions of March 13, 2002, since the court had also said that the 80:20 arrangement (in favour of the managements) would "remain in force till the appeals (in the High Court) were disposed of or till the end of the academic year (2002-2003) which ever is earlier". While the appeals are still pending, the academic year is clearly over. They also point out that last year the managements were able to get a reprieve only because they had informed the Supreme Court that at the time of the hearing they had already filled up all the seats in the 80 per cent quota. Three dental PG aspirants approached the High Court questioning the validity of the government's October 10 notification.

On October 30, the court asked the petitioners to verify whether the March 12 verdict of the Supreme Court applied to both dental and medical PG seats or whether it related only to medical seats.

A few dental PG aspirants have also approached the Supreme Court questioning the validity of the State government's seat-sharing matrix and its October 10 gazette notification (curiously the gazette does not mention that it supersedes the July 3 notification and that objections may be filed citing this point as well).

The court passed an interim order directing that the managements should admit 50 per cent of the students and the government 20 per cent. It directed the petitioners and the respondents to file their objection/counters on November 7. The question of who will allot the remaining 30 per cent of seats will possibly be decided on that date.

The managements, according to informed sources, will, as they did in the court on October 30, point out that they have already filled up 80 per cent of the seats. This was their stand last year as well. The question is how were the managements able to fill 124 seats (the extra seats that they got after the October 10 gazette notification enhancing their share to 80 per cent) in 20 days?

BETWEEN cracking down on admission procedures that are against meritorious students and going soft on these practices, the Krishna government has preferred to toe the more politically expedient line of supporting the private managements. And this is hardly surprising. Private managements have the money and the religious (a number of religious mutts run professional institutions) and political clout. This is hardly surprising when one considers that several political bigwigs are associated with private professional institutions. As many as eight State Ministers (Parameshwara, Home Minister Mallikarjun Kharge, Revenue Minister H.C. Srikantaiah, Urban Development Minister D.K. Shivakumar, Sports and Youth Services Minister S.S. Mallikarjuna, Labour Minister Qamarul Islam, Infrastructure Development and Civil Aviation Minister T. John and Mines and Geology Minister V. Muniyappa), a host of Congress leaders like R.L. Jalappa, Jaffer Sharief, S. Bangarappa and Shammanur Shivashankarappa, and legislators of all political hues are reportedly directly connected with the running of private professional colleges in the State. According to academics, although Karnataka passed the Prohibition of Capitation Fee Act in 1984, none of the private managements has respected the Act in letter or spirit.

Academics like Dr. R.R. Patil, who have been fighting a legal battle on behalf of the affected meritorious students, told Frontline that the current dental PG farce was a direct fallout of the government's under-graduate admission process. The government had, acting on the basis of its own orders and an interim order of the High Court delivered on June 30, started counselling UG students for up to 75 per cent of the seats in the private professional colleges. But once the legal interpretation of the Pai judgment came on August 14 the government was forced to backtrack and legally give up another 25 per cent of seats (besides the 25 per cent that they had already utilised) to the managements.

This would have meant cancelling admissions that it made over and above those allotted to it under the Supreme Court's order and necessitated a fresh seat selection process. The government had in fact stopped admissions midway, in the wake of the verdict. Faced with the unpopularity of cancelling seats already allotted, the Krishna government struck a deal. The dental PG concession (80:20) was obviously part of this deal.

Explained Dr. A.B. Maalaka Reddi, Minister for Medical Education: "The government had already committed itself to 75 per cent of the seats. We were not in a position to cancel any seats. During a meeting called by the Chief Secretary, certain concessions were made to the managements. While they agreed to allow the government to retain the extra 25 per cent of seats the government had to concede some of their (managements') demands. A policy of give and take had to be adopted, otherwise the UG admission process would have been deadlocked."

While this cosy quid pro quo salvaged the government's UG selection process it resulted in meritorious PG dental aspirants losing out on seats in private colleges. These seats have been filled up by the managements without conducting an entrance examination. Managements have taken the precaution of informing students (admitted as part of the extra 30 per cent) that they could lose their seats if the courts ruled against them (managements).

Since 1987, managements in connivance with successive State governments have taken cover under the Karnataka Medical Colleges and Dental Colleges (Selection for Admission to Post-Graduate Courses) Rules, 1987, which enabled them to manipulate the system and corner at least 80 per cent of the lucrative medical and dental PG seats. These rules did not lay down the criteria for the determination of merit. The seats were then, in flagrant violation of Medical Council of India (MCI) regulations, `sold' for amounts ranging between Rs.5 lakhs and Rs.50 lakhs. The remaining were `offered' to the RGUHS for allocation to candidates who qualified on merit in the PG entrance test.

And although the MCI's gazette notification (The Postgraduate Medical Education Regulations 2000) in October 2000 stated that only 50 per cent of the total intake in a college should be filled by the managements, the managements and the government continued to pay no heed. In August 2001, 10 months after the MCI's regulations were gazetted, the State government had still not implemented it. It was only in March 2002, after the Supreme Court in response to a public interest petition ordered it to do so, that the Karnataka government issued directions to the effect that managements would only be entitled to 50 per cent of the available medical PG seats. Unfortunately, the Dental Council of India's (DCIs) regulations are yet to be notified by the Central government. They were sent for approval in February 2002.

IN addition to the sheer number of PG seats, managements have also been able to corner nearly all the seats in the highly sought after clinical branches in both medical and dental courses, which could not have happened without the help of the government, which gave up these seats to the management. And even when there has been an unequal distribution of seats, there has in most instances been no rotation of seats. If during one year the college had the benefit of getting a seat that was left as a fraction, the government should get the benefit the next year.

The managements cornered 53 of the 56 available seats in the Master of Dental Surgery (MDS) (Orthodontics), 53 of 57 in MDS (Conservative Dentistry), 56 of 68 in MDS (Prosthodontics), 26 of 37 in MDS (Pedodontia) and 49 of 58 seats in MDS (Oral Surgery). Surprisingly, the only government dental college in Karnataka has no PG department in Pedodontia (children's dentistry).

Expressing concern over the methods deployed to secure PG admission, senior dentists told Frontline that the net result would only mean poor quality dentists. "Some of these colleges do not even have patients for their UG students," one of them said.

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