Dr Govinda KC’s hunger strike against certain provisions in the National Medical Education Bill continues to attract a great deal of attention. There is widespread anger against the government’s refusal to take steps that would help end KC’s hunger strike, even though his condition is quite critical.
Unsurprisingly, a large number of protestors came out to Maitighar Mandala on Saturday to express solidarity with him. The crowd included doctors, politicians, students, celebrities and professionals from various sectors, demonstrating how Dr KC’s hunger strike has caught the public imagination.
Furthermore, there is now close public scrutiny of the draft bill. It is now widely recognised that the bill has been drafted primarily with the intention of benefiting a small number of entrepreneurs and their cronies in the political parties, rather than improving the medical education in Nepal as a whole. What has particularly infuriated the protestors is that the bill in fact backtracks from prior commitments made by the government during previous occasions when Dr KC was on hunger strike.
The public pressure generated through Dr KC’s protest has made an impact on the government. The Speaker of Parliament, who is from the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), has temporarily halted the passage of the bill through Parliament. This is a positive step, but it is only a makeshift one. What the government should do next is withdraw the bill, engage in widespread consultations and revise it. The Mathema Commission was formed to offer recommendations on the health education bill. Perhaps it is time to form another similar commission consisting of eminent personalities from the medical sector. The bill in its current form is fatally damaged. Much work will need to be done to develop consensus and rebuild trust between the government and society.
Also, the government would do well to reflect how the bill it has proposed matches with its stated priorities. Prime Minister KP Oli has said that his primary goal is to ensure greater prosperity for all Nepalis. But the bill in its current form seems to envisage a Nepal where only a small number of Nepalis will profiteer at the expense of other. If the bill is enacted into law, it will enable the establishment of poorly equipped medical colleges that charge a great deal of money to students. The colleges will be located in the capital and other large cities and would not be of benefit to the poorer regions.
Oli has also said that he intends to ensure good governance. But the bill is the very epitome of bad governance, since it enables the rampant spread of crony capitalism and the rule of law. It is clear that the passage of the bill will cause the population to lose faith in the government’s intention to fulfill its stated objectives. The bill needs to be withdrawn and redrafted through broad consultation without further delay.