Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal's order to ensure transparency in filling vacant MBBS and BDS seats under the NRI quota in private medical colleges was strongly opposed by medical education and research minister Bhagat Chunni Lal, it has emerged.
Sharp differences have cropped up between alliance partners Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over challenging of the CM's authority by Bhagat - who also holds the crucial portfolio of local bodies - and the way he has been discharging his duties.
Taking cognisance of Hindustan Times reports, which had highlighted how the medical education department had virtually made it easy for private colleges to sell MBBS and BDS seats by asking them to conduct their own counselling and how MBBS seats were being auctioned in the state, Badal had on Wednesday directed to fill vacant MBBS and BDS seats under the NRI quota in a transparent manner.
Badal had overturned the order of Bhagat, who had allowed private medical colleges to conduct counselling for unfilled NRI seats despite stiff opposition from secretary (medical education and research) Anjali Bhawra. Bhagat's order had brought the counselling of unfilled NRI seats out of the ambit of the government-owned Baba Farid University of Health Sciences (BFUHS), Faridkot.
Following Badal's Wednesday morning directive, Bhawra mooted an "urgent/most immediate" eight-point proposal "to give admission process transparency…" The secretary, in her draft corrigendum, proposed the procedure to be followed by the institution "while filling unfilled, left-over seats in MBBS/BDS," according to official records HT has accessed.
The file was placed before Bhagat, who despite knowing the stand the CM had taken, refused to accept three vital guidelines (see box) the secretary had mooted to ensure transparency.
As the minister escalated the dispute, Bhawra, an IAS officer, on Thursday took up the matter with the chief minister through chief secretary Rakesh Singh to resolve the differences.
In her one-page note, Bhawra stated that the selective approvals given by the minister amounted to "dilution of the role of BFUHS." "Thus, inclusion of clauses not agreed by the minister, in my opinion, will ensure complete transparency in filling unfilled NRI seats…" Bhawra wrote while submitting the file for orders of the CM "as a case of difference of opinion" and sought orders for issuing the notification as she had proposed.
The file was put up before the chief secretary, who wrote a one-page note, endorsing Bhawra's stand. "The proposals submitted by the secretary, medical education and research… were aimed at ensuring transparency and natural justice for the eligible candidates," the CS wrote. He further stated that the minister did not agree to accept the three proposals "for reasons that are not available in his (minister's) note…" The chief secretary further wrote: "I have carefully perused the entire case… I am in agreement with her (Bhawra) that inclusion of these paras in the procedure for admissions is necessary to ensure transparency, convenience and recognition of merit…"
Accordingly, the chief secretary "recommended" to the chief minister for approval of the proposal and to issue the draft notification.
By Thursday afternoon, the CM again put his foot down officially, approving the proposal as endorsed by the chief secretary. The fresh notification was issued right away, leaving Bhagat reportedly fuming.
In the 'Adesh Institute of Medical Science and Research versus State of Punjab' case, the Supreme Court had on July 19, "as an interim measure", directed that the petitioner will be allowed to fill unfilled seats of the NRI quota by charging Rs 4 lakh each from MBBS students and Rs 1.5 lakh each from BDS students "as per clause 9 of the notification prescribed in the fee structure of the state government "subject to final orders passed by this court."
Clause 9 of the Punjab government notification, issued on March 19, reads: "NRI quota can be filled only by a genuine NRI. If no NRI is available, seat in the said quota cannot be filled by charging NRI fee. Filling of seats has to be consistent with the rules as may be applicable."
It was on the basis of this interim order that medical education and research minister Bhagat Chunni Lal began advocating the case of private colleges, ignoring the advice of his officers.
In his official note, the minister took the stand that various notifications issued by his department following the apex court's interim order were in complete violation of the order.