(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 20, 2009
Corporatisation of AIIMS on the Agenda
Amit Sen Gupta
IN 2006, in the wake of an ugly public display of acrimony between the then director of AIIMS, DrVenugopal, and the then health minister, Ambumani Ramadoss, the government had set up a four-member expert committee headed by Professor M S Valiathan. The committee’s mandate was to propose recommendations to turn the premier institution “into a centre of excellence and a leader in public health”. While the committee’s report was submitted during the tenure of the previous government, it had been lying in cold storage for some time. However the report has now been resurrected and there are serious attempts to get the governing council of AIIMS to endorse the report.
committee, has made far reaching recommendations to restructure
The Valiathan Committee also suggests means by which partnership with industry could help generate revenue. The report says: “…the institute should adopt a clear strategy for reducing the dependence on government grants significantly over a 10 year period by diversifying sources of income; by making growth plans sustainable; and by professionalising the management of the institution with no room for adhocism..”. It suggests setting up a self financing body called the “AIIMS International”, whose activities should include, “consultancy by AIIMS faculty for specific projects, setting up new institutions for medical education or research in other countries, conduct of entrance examinations in other countries, etc.”
The committee’s recommendations have also called for “research incentives” in the form of Rs 10,000 awarded for papers published by AIIMS faculty in peer reviewed journals. The faculty is also encouraged to undertake consultancy for industry. Even closer links with industry is suggested in the form of opportunities to faculty members to be taken on lien by industry. It also proposes setting up a new research facility as per USFDA (United States Food and Drugs Administration) guidelines that would promote research that is of “great interest to industry”. The recommendations are not limited to the medical faculty, and also calls for contract recruitment in Class C and posts through “professional agencies in the public/private sectors”.
NEOLIBERAL POLICIES AND
CORPORATISATION OF RESEARCH
The Valiathan Committee’s recommendations and the government’s eagerness to adopt them raise some broader issues of critical importance. The fact that the recommendations are being welcomed by the government points to its complete capitulation to the needs of a neoliberal economic order. Today, the demands of global capital, mediated through the market, are increasingly driving the trajectory of advances in science. The needs of a neo-liberal economic order valorises immediate gain as the principal driver of science. Science as an open system is giving away to the logic of the capitalist enterprise, where it is driven by the demands of a private research system, increasingly embedded within the heart of the educational system. This is clearly what the Valiathan Committee wants enshrined in the functioning of the AIIMS.
of scientific knowledge in all fields, resided within the structures of
education. As these were relatively autonomous of both the state and
market, the system of generating new knowledge was not closely bound by
immediate needs of the dominant classes in society. The university
thus, was able to retain a sense of independence and self-regulation.
was seen to have a larger purpose than merely serving capital or the
the state. The Valiathan Committee imbroglio is a reflection of the
the present Indian state seeks transformation of research institutions
profit making commercial enterprises. In the neoliberal order, science
longer seen as a way to advance knowledge and the well-being of society
a means for generating profits for corporations. The impact of such a
shift is already
visible in different sectors in
The trajectory towards
private appropriation of knowledge is typified by the Bayh Dole Act in
REVERSING THE SPIRIT BEHIND
SETTING UP OF AIIMS
It may be recalled that the AIIMS was set up through the All India Institute of Medical Sciences Act, 1956. The Act outlined the objectives of the institute as follows:
patterns of teaching in under-graduate and post-graduate medical
all its branches so as to demonstrate a high standard of medical
all medical colleges and other allied institutions in
· to bring together in one place educational facilities of the highest order for the training of personnel in all important branches of health activity; and
· to attain self-sufficiency in post-graduate medical education.
Since then the institute has had a chequered career. On one hand, it has produced some of the best medical minds in the country, many of whom have gone on to lead other centres of excellence. It has also been a pioneer in the introduction of many medical technologies in the country. However, particularly in the last two decades, the institute has fallen into growing disarray. This has been fuelled principally by two forces. First, the increasing interference of the government in the institute’s day to day working (which culminated in the ugly public exchange of words between Dr Venugopal and Dr Ramadoss). But, perhaps more importantly, AIIMS has also become a victim of the erosion of “public ethos” in the country. In the last two decades the institute has failed to cope with the challenge posed by a burgeoning, corporate controlled, private medical sector. The faculty has been denuded by migration to the private sector and to foreign locations. This has been helped along by the vitiated work environment in the institute, a result of ham-handed government interference.
institute today is in urgent need for resuscitation. Its demise would
the demise of public funded excellence in the field of medicine in
Press reports suggest that the report has been well received and got an “in-principle approval from the governing body”. They also suggest that a strong pressure is being mounted by the prime minister’s office on the governing body to have the recommendations accepted. This is a matter of grave concern and it is imperative that parliament takes stock of the attempt to completely reverse the spirit behind setting up of the institute.