NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today directed the Centre to set up a panel to substitute the court-appointed oversight committee, headed by former CJI R M Lodha, to look after the affairs of the Medical Council of India (MCI), with the government saying it would come up with names by tomorrow.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar observed that the Centre should constitute a panel which would replace the oversight committee set up last year by the apex court to oversee the MCI's functioning till the government put in place an alternate mechanism.
"We all want this. The whole country want this. You (Centre) should have your committee. There is no shortage of eminent persons," the bench, which also comprised Justices J Chelameswar, R K Agrawal, D Y Chandrachud and S Abdul Nazeer, said.
"If the government does it, fine. And if the government will not do it, then we will have to do it. There should be an alternate mechanism as per the earlier order of this court," the bench said.
Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told the apex court that the government would come up with the names for the alternate committee by tomorrow morning.
"We will come up with an alternate mechanism which will deal with the grievances of medical colleges in the country," he told the bench after which the court fixed the matter for tomorrow.
The court was dealing with the question whether the apex court-appointed three-member oversight committee will continue to look after the affairs of MCI.
The committee, set up by the court on May 2 last year, was to function for a period of one year or till a suitable mechanism was brought in by the Centre to substitute it.
During the hearing, senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for some medical colleges, told the bench that till date, no alternative mechanism has been put in place by the Centre despite the fact that the oversight panel was to function for only one year or till a suitable mechanism was evolved.
He argued that the MCI was bound by the directions of the oversight committee but the council was not adhering to them.
"If oversight committee has passed certain directions, the MCI is bound to obey it. They cannot say we will not obey the committee's directions. It will amount to contempt of this court because the committee was constituted by the Supreme Court," he said.
Sibal also said that even the committee has said that the MCI has adopted an "non-compliant attitude" and defied them on several aspects.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, said the tenure of the oversight committee should be extended by one more year or till the time the Centre comes out with a mechanism to deal with the issues relating to functioning of MCI.
"One year has gone by. What is the problem if the court will say that oversight committee's term is extended by another one year? Why are we fighting over this? There are a number of petitions related to MCI issue which are pending in this court," he said.
The Solicitor General said the government had constituted a high-level committee under the chairmanship of the vicechairman of the Niti Aayog and a National Medical Commission Bill has been drafted, which will replace the Indian Medical Council Act.
He said that a Group of Ministers had suggested some changes in the draft and the bill is now ready to be placed before Parliament.
The bench, however, asked, "From May 16, 2016 to May 15, 2017, you (government) were supposed to find an alternative mechanism. But you didn't do that. Now, you give us the scheme. Is it (bill) likely to be passed in this session?"
Responding to this, the Solicitor General said he cannot say whether the bill will be passed in the ongoing session.
Meanwhile, Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh told the apex court that a five member committee, comprising special Director General of Health Services and others, has been set up which will be an "alternate mechanism" to deal with the issues.
During the hearing, the bench observed that the Centre was well within its right to accept or decline the recommendations of the oversight committee but the government must come out with its own panel.
"I feel that this court never wanted to constitute a committee. You choose a committee having eminent persons. You are the government and you have all the resources. You do it,"
the CJI said, adding that if the government had come out with its committee, the oversight panel would have gone by now.
The apex court had on July 13 agreed to set up a fivejudge constitution bench to deal with the matter after Rohatgi had said it was an urgent matter as counselling for admissions in MBBS and BDS was underway.
The Centre had earlier told the apex court that it had taken steps to put the alternative mechanism in place and there was no need now for the oversight committee to continue.
MCI had contended that the directions of the constitution bench which had set up the oversight committee were based on certain material which could not be controverted at the time of the order.