The much-delayed appointment process of the new director of Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) is causing a lot of heartburn in the prestigious institute with faculty members questioning the transparency and fairness of the selection procedure adopted by the Union health ministry.
Though former PGI director Dr YK Chawla retired in October this year, it was only in April that the ministry began the process of seeking applications and nominations for the process. Finally, it was in October that 21 members of the institute who had applied for the post were called for an interview.
Many claim that the interview itself was eyewash as the screening panel consisted of a bureaucrat (health secretary), a former director general of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and a retired member of the Hamdard Institute in New Delhi. “They were not qualified to interview us,” complained a senior professor. First, the applicants received a letter asking them to come for an interaction with the committee, and two days later they were asked to prepare five slides.
The interview itself turned out to be an exercise in haste. A professor said he was allowed to show just one slide, and then told to sum up. “It was a sham. I felt so humiliated,” he recounts.
‘INTERVIEWS A TOTAL FARCE’
Prof Vinay Sukhija, former dean of PGI, wondered how the selection committee could impose a time limit on the interview. “The interviews were a total farce, a way to legitimise a wrong decision. If they don’t need an interview for AIIMS director, why should they conduct it for PGI,” asked Sukhija.
Former PGI director Prof BNS Walia fumed: “The way they conducted the interviews was grossly humiliating. They were not employing a domestic servant, were they? I believe the panel disposed of almost two dozen people in six hours.”
Finally, three professors were shortlisted in November. They include Dr Anil Bhansali (head of endocrinology department), Dr Meenu Singh (paediatrics department and head of telemedicine unit) and Dr Jagat Ram (head of ophthalmology department). While Dr Jagat Ram, who has been a professor for 16 years, is on the top in PGI professors’ seniority list, Dr Bhansali ranks 27nd and Dr Meenu is at 52nd place. The selection of doctors with such a difference in seniority has led to a lot of resentment in the institute.
Unlike All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, where the director is selected on the basis of seniority, the Union health ministry decided to drop this criterion for PGIMER in 2011 when the director superseded 18 seniors.
‘SENIORITY SHOULD BE RESPECTED’
Dr N Khandelwal from radio diagnosis summed up the sentiments of many when he said that seniority should be respected. “Seniority has a big role to play, for when you select a person much junior to others you end up creating many power centres.”
Prof Walia agreed that while merit is an important consideration, weightage should be given to seniority as well. “If the difference in merit between the candidates is only little, seniority should be given preference.”
Most feel that seniority is a good yardstick along with merit and conduct. This is why eyebrows were raised at the selection of Dr Bhansali, who was issued an advisory warning by the PGI administration following a probe by the chief vigilance officer in 2005. Dr Bhansali, however, called it a procedural lapse, and not a case of financial misdeed.
Dr Bhansali is also one of the co-authors of a paper that led to accusations of unethical practice against his fellow author Dr Pinaki Dutta, also from the endocrinology department, in 2015. Dr Dutta was later indicted by the PGI Ethics Committee.
Dr Meenu Singh has a plagiarism charge against her. Her paper ‘Zinc for the common cold’ was withdrawn by the Cochrane Library after a researcher at the University of Helsinki complained that she had copied his data and sentences without citing his paper. Dr Singh, however, said she was updating the paper and it had not been permanently withdrawn.
Plagiarism is a grey area with many in the faculty saying sometimes it’s a mere oversight while referencing a paper. Dr Amod Gupta, former head of ophthalmology department, said plagiarism carries its own punishment. “You suffer the ignominy of having your paper retracted, but I don’t think there is anything in the PGI rules against plagiarism.”
BHANSALI ABOVE CUT-OFF AGE
Interestingly, Dr Bhansali, who is 61, has also crossed the cut-off age of 60 for the director’s post. Dr Amod Gupta, who was the senior most among the panel of doctors selected for director’s post in 2011, says he was age-barred after the department of personnel and training said the cut-off age was 60. Dr Gupta was 62 at that time.
Dr Jagat Ram, who has bagged several international awards such as the Oscar in Paediatric Ophthalmology and two Best of the Best awards, refused to comment on the controversy, saying it would not be ethical on his part to do so.