22-28 July 2016 #818

Hungry for reform

Nearly two weeks into Govinda KC’s hunger strike, political parties are still unwilling to listen to his demands
Tufan Neupane And Ramu Sapkota

Bhanu Bhattarai

It took the government 11 days to set up a committee to initiate dialogue with Govinda KC, a Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH) doctor who has been on an indefinite hunger strike since 10 July, demanding reforms in the medical education sector.

But the three-member committee, led by Health Secretary Senendra Raj Upreti, does not have the mandate to address KC’s major demands: impeachment of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) Chief Lokman Singh Karki, and cancellation of a bill that would allow Manmohan Hospital to open a new medical college in Kathmandu.

On Tuesday, the main opposition NC — which is gearing up to form a new government with the Maoists — came up with an official stand on KC’s grievances: these are political issues, and it does not want to dwell on them. On the same day, after a meeting to discuss a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister KP Oli, the ruling UML issued a press statement that was silent on KC’s demands.

The bureaucrat-led government panel failed to reach a deal with KC on Thursday evening, and is unlikely to address his demands regardless of the number of attempts at negotiation.

Former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti Party has joined an alliance to express solidarity with KC, but unless the major parties wake up, it appears difficult to save KC’s life; his health is deteriorating rapidly. Except President Bidya Bhandari, Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar and a few legislators, the leaders who could actually make a difference have remained quiet. Education expert Kedar Bhakta Mathema — whose panel submitted a report that KC seeks to have as the blueprint for the proposed Medical Education Bill — says the ‘culture of silence’ seen in the face of the fasting doctor’s ‘satyagraha’ has once again exposed the shaky foundation of democracy in Nepal.

The demand to impeach CIAA Chief Karki aside, most of the points KC has raised this time are not new. Addressing them would not be as difficult as the top leaders think. The impeachment process has to go through parliament and the goal may thus be difficult for the government to achieve immediately, but it can at least conduct a parliamentary investigation into the accusations.

KC’s basis for demanding Karki’s impeachment is the latter's blatant interference in the postgraduate medical science exams of Kathmandu University (KU), for personal gain. A day before the exams, the CIAA dispatched a ‘panel of experts’ who cancelled the question paper, saying that it had been leaked, and prepared a new one.  KU Associate Dean Bhagwat Nepal helped prepare the new questions, and his son scored top marks in the exams. CCTV cameras in the exam hall had been disabled to erase evidence of the incident.

But this is not the first time the CIAA has interfered in KU. The role played by Karki when KU granted affiliation to Birat Medical College also seems suspicious. The university’s 60th senate had decided not to grant affiliation to new medical colleges, saying it was difficult to handle and regulate new private medical colleges.

KC launched his crusade for reform of the medical education sector at that time. The government even agreed to his demands and stopped KU from granting affiliations to newer colleges. But the pressure to grant affiliation to Birat Medical College, run by Karki’s nephew Gyanendra Man Singh Karki, and Devdaha Medical College, run by Nilkantha Kafle and Himlal Gyawali, both of whom are close to then-Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, were such that Vice Chancellor Suresh Raj Sharma resigned.

Likewise, KIST Medical College, owned by Karki’s brother Balman Singh Karki, had permission to enroll 75 students in the 2013/14 academic session. On 12 September 2014, the Nepal Medical Council increased the seats to 135 under instructions from the CIAA Secretariat. Jyoti Baniya, who was then a member of the Council and had raised concerns over the decision, was subsequently hounded by the CIAA. 

KC’s other demands include the cancellation of the Manmohan Memorial Institute of Health Sciences bill tabled in parliament, and implementation of the Mathema Report for Reform in the Medical Education Act. Addressing them is doable, if the Big Three parties muster the courage to do so.

But the UML leaders have invested their money in the Manmohan hospital, and are trying their best to foil KC’s strike. The government decided early this week to forward the Medical Education Bill to parliament without incorporating the suggestions of the Mathema Report, signalling that it is still not ready to listen to KC.

By turning a deaf ear to what KC is saying from inside a narrow room in the TUTH, the political parties are now pushing the crusader-doctor, admired for his simplicity and selflessness, to the brink of death.

Read also

Health should not be wealth, Binita Dahal

Lethal politics of a sick nation, Kunda Dixit

Truth be told, Bidhushi Dhungel

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