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Cure this: MCI won't share info on medical negligence cases, RTI be damned

The Medical Council of India regulates the medical profession in this country. You would expect such an important body to be extremely transparent. The MCI is anything but.

In fact, it has lately taken a big leap backwards from transparency.

The MCI ethics committee, tasked with protecting the "interests of patients", has decided not to make minutes of its meetings public anymore. That is not all; you can't get this information even through RTI.

Veil of secrecy

This, in effect, puts details of cases of medical negligence or misconduct by doctors or healthcare workers out of reach for the public.

The MCI had stopped uploading minutes of the ethics committee's meetings in October 2013, but anyone could access the details through the RTI.

Not anymore.

When the People for Better Treatment, or PBT, an organisation that fights cases of medical negligence, filed an RTI request for information on a case last month, it was told "the ethics committee has revised its working methodology".

"No consolidated minutes of the meetings of the ethics committee are now maintained/prepared," the MCI's response to the RTI request read. "This is done as the ethics committee considers the matter before it in a quasi-judicial capacity and adjudicates upon the appeal/complaint."

"The committee has to decide upon the matter that affects the rights and duties of the contesting parties in accordance with the principles of natural justice and disclosing the proceedings prior to conclusion of a matter would serve no public interest."

This flies in the face of the Central Information Commission's 2012 directive to the MCI to publish "all information received against negligent doctors and the status of the investigation" on its website.

Ushering in darkness

All these changes in the MCI's "working methodology" have been effected since Dr Jayshreeban Mehta took over as its chairperson in November 2013.

Before that, the ethics committee regularly published details of its meetings on the MCI's website.

But for at least a year now, the PBT found, "no details have been posted on the website about the status of investigations of numerous complaints lodged against doctors in India".

"They are not divulging any information regarding even the most obvious cases of medical negligence. It seems they are hiding something," says Mihir Banerjee of the PBT.

When contacted by Catch, several members of the ethics committee said only the panel's chairman was authorised to speak on the matter. The chairman, Dr Dhruba Jyoti Borah, was "not available for comment".

"Divulging minutes of the meetings is the prerogative of the chairman," said Dr D Shantharam, one of the members.

On why the panel hasn't uploaded any information for over a year, he said, "Matters regarding any case of medical negligence or unscrupulous practices by medical practitioners can only be divulged after a decision on the matter has been taken, hence the delay."

Activists don't buy the argument. Dr MC Gupta, a doctor turned lawyer, pointed out that since the MCI calls itself a quasi-judicial body, it ought to put the details of its meetings on the website. "It's obvious that the MCI is trying to hide something," he added.

Gupta rubbished the contention that divulging the information was the sole prerogative of the panel's chairman.

From accrediting medical colleges and registering doctors to working with the judiciary on matters of medical negligence, the MCI is entrusted with a crucial mandate. Forsaking transparency in its functioning is a violation of that mandate.

Vishakh Unnikrishnan

Vishakh Unnikrishnan @sparksofvishdom