Kochi: The Kerala government has gone out of the way and regularised admissions in Kannur Medical College for the academic year 2016-17 bypassing High Court and Supreme Court verdicts and ignoring the Admission Supervisory Committee finding that the college collected capitation fee, an illegal practice. In the process, it also violated two provisions in the ordinance it had promulgated. This flies in the face of the CPM and its youth and student organisations that waged relentless battles for three decades to clean up the higher education sector, especially self-financing professional colleges. The Cabinet, chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, on January 31, 2018 authorised the regularisation of admissions in Kannur Medical College, Anjarakkady, in violation of provisions on capitation fee and profiteering in its own ordinance. It regularised the admissions in Karuna Medical College, Palakkad, also.
The Cabinet which trashed the findings of Mr B. Srinivas, the Competent Authority designated to consider applications for regularisation, also overruled additional chief secretary (health) Rajeev Sadanandan who concurred with the Competent Authority. Instead, it relied on a report submitted by law secretary B.G. Harindranath, favouring the regularisation of all the seats, documents accessed by DC through the provisions of the Right to Information Act show. Interestingly, law minister A.K. Balan noted that the reports of the two departments were “not in concurrence with” each other, signifying his disapproval of the law secretary’s report, and left the decision to the Chief Minister, documents show. The CM chose to stand by the law secretary, paving the way for the illegal regularisation of admissions, cancelled by the statutory ASC after finding that the colleges had failed in the triple test of transparency, non-profiteering and merit-based admission, set by the Supreme Court.
The High Court and the Supreme Court had dismissed the petitions filed by the students and managements challenging the committee's decision. As per the ordinance, now being replaced by a Bill which is under the consideration of the Assembly subject committee, a Competent Authority appointed to consider applications for regularisation has to consider six parameters, one of them being to "ensure that no capitation fee was collected by management." Mr Srinivas, then principal secretary (health), who was appointed the Competent Authority, sought the opinion of the ASC on this provision. The ASC, in its report, said "parents of 12 students of 2016-17 MBBS batch of Kannur Medical College filed complaints before this committee for directing the college to return the fee collected from the above students at the time of admission (as those students have decided to join for other colleges). The allegations in the complaint would reveal that the students have paid the amounts shown against their names."
The committee, which listed names of 12 students who paid between Rs 22 lakh and Rs 45 lakh, concluded that "it is evident that the college collected fee in excess of the permitted limited which can be construed as capitation. The complaint and other material evidences in this regard are forwarded herewith." Mr Srinivas, based on this report, said he was unable to ensure that the management collected no capitation fee which was a condition in the ordinance.
"It is evident from the above-mentioned ASC communication and the accompanied evidence that the management of Kannur Medical College, Anjarakkandy, indulged in collection of capitation fee. In the circumstances, it is not possible for the competent authority to ensure compliance of Sections 4 (v) & (vi) of the ordinance," says the report Mr Srinivas submitted to the additional chief secretary (health). These sections mandated that the Competent Authority ensure colleges collected no capitation fee nor did not resort to profiteering. The Authority, however, recommended for regularisation the admission of 44 of 137 students of Kannur Medical College and 24 of 31 students of Karuna Medical College after finding that they were denied admission for no fault of theirs. Mr Sadanandan concurred with the recommendations of the Competent Authority.
However, Health Minister K.K. Shylaja sought the opinion of the law department in an apparent bid to overrule the recommendations of the Competent Authority not to regularise the admissions of 93 students of Kannur Medical College and 7 students of Karuna Medical College. The law secretary in his report questioned the report of the Competent Authority, saying the Authority had not understood the provisions in the ordinance properly. He dismissed the findings of the Admission Supervisory Committee that Kannur Medical College had indeed collected capitation fee saying "there is no material available to conclude that capitation fee was collected or that there is profiteering by the management". He also listed the 'faults' committed by the Competent Authority and opined that the minister concerned can overrule the opinion of the officials.
Mr Pinarayi Vijayan, concurring with the law secretary, directed Mr Sadanandan to put up a note for the Cabinet to see if the Competent Authority can be authorised to take the decision after "removing the shortcomings pointed out by the law department." The Cabinet on January 31, 2018, "decided to stick with legal opinion of the law secretary and depute the administrative department (health) to approve the list to be prepared and issue orders on the same." The health department, having, lost its battle, in its order on February 14, regularised the admissions of 118 students of Kannur Medical College and 31 students of Karuna Medical College along with a fine of Rs 3 lakh per student to be paid by the colleges.