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Andhra Pradesh: Ideological neglect

EducationWorld June 13 | Education News EducationWorld

The statehood-for-Telangana movement in Andhra Pradesh — an on-off agitation which has persisted for over four decades — received a fresh boost following a decision of the newly re-constituted Medical Council of India (MCI) to deny three government medical colleges in the Telangana region an intake increase. For the second year in a row, the hopes of many students in Telangana, unable to afford seats in private colleges which levy relatively high tuition fees, have been dashed.

An MCI team led by its secretary Dr. R.P. Meena, which inspected the three medical colleges in Hyderabad and Warangal, cited appalling conditions, inadequate infrastructure, and faculty shortages as reasons for rejecting the Andhra Pradesh government’s proposal to increase capacity from 200 to 250 in Osmania Medical College and from 150 to 200 in the Gandhi and Kakatiya medical colleges in the academic year beginning August. A plea for sanctioning a new college in the Nizamabad district of the state was also turned down by the inspection team which was reportedly “disgusted’’ with the amenities and gross neglect of infrastructure and hygiene in all government medical colleges and hospitals attached to them. “The infrastructure in these colleges is woefully inadequate. The lifts don’t work, there is lack of medical equipment, coupled with severe staff shortages. There is no way we can recommend additional seats in their present condition,” said Meena.

Last year the row over medical seats had turned into a regional war as the MCI had increased intake capacity of the Andhra Medical College, Visakhapatnam, the private Siddhartha Medical College, Vijayawada, and the Kurnool Medical College — all sited outside Telangana — by 50 seats each. This alleged discrimination against medical colleges in the Telangana region prompted the Osmania Medical College, Hyderabad, and Kakatiya Medical College, Warangal, to file a writ petition against MCI in the Andhra high court.

While rejecting the petition, the court directed MCI to look afresh at the issue of capacity expansion in government colleges and advised the latter to improve infrastructure, hygiene and faculty strength. Political parties including the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, which is leading the statehood-for-Telangana agitation, have been quick to allege state government neglect of the three government medical colleges in the region with a capacity of 2,350 seats (cf 2,300 seats in coastal Andhra and 980 seats in the Rayalaseema region). However, Kondru Murali, minister for medical education, dismisses the charges. “There is no regional bias whatsoever in the allocation of seats. In fact Andhra Pradesh has been striving for excellence in medical education and has 5,600 seats on offer — the highest in the country,” he says.

According to knowledgeable monitors of the education scene in Hyderabad, the Congress state government has been experiencing resource constraints for upgradation and improvement of its own medical colleges because of the huge expenditure it incurs under its pro-private sector Arogyasri Scheme introduced by the state’s late chief minister Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy, who was killed in an air crash in September 2009. Under the scheme introduced in 2007, pink ration cardholders (people below the poverty line) are entitled to almost free medical treatment in a select network of 270 private hospitals which includes 20 corporate hospitals. The state government which had allocated Rs.1,000 crore annually for reimbursements to private hospitals which treat pink cardholders, had to increase its budgetary outlay in fiscal 2013-14 by Rs.300 crore with private hospitals insisting upon — and getting — a 30 percent tariff hike. This left the government with Rs.300 crore less to invest in improving facilities of its medical schools and hospitals statewide.

Comments Dr. Raj Reddy, an eminent Hyderabad-based neurosurgeon and former director of The Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences: “It is shameful that the government is ignoring government colleges and hospitals which once had the very best talent in the country to benefit private hospitals. It certainly does not augur well for a government that keeps harping on the slogan ‘health for all’ to ignore government medical colleges and hospitals that are fundamental to the public health system.”

Against the backdrop of the interminable Telangana statehood movement which periodically disrupts academic life, political instability and ideological about-turns, education — particularly higher education — in Andhra Pradesh (pop. 84 million) has suffered a huge setback.

Aruna Ravikumar (Hyderabad)

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