Explained: Chhattisgarh's Contentious Bill to Acquire a Private Medical College

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The Chandulal Chandrakar Memorial Medical College (Acquisition) Bill, brought by the Bhupesh Baghel government in Chhattisgarh, was cleared amid vehement protest by the BJP-led Opposition in the state.

The Bill, passed by the Chhattisgarh government by voice vote on Thursday, 29 July, authorises the Congress-led government to acquire the medical college associated with CM Bhupesh Baghel's son-in-law's family.

The acquisition of the medical institution, at an amount that is double of its valuation, will present a cost of Rs 140 crore per year to the state government.

Why and how is the college being acquired by the state government? What's its history and why have Opposition parties in Chhattisgarh objected to it?

Here's everything we know about the controversy.

The Chandulal Chandrakar Medical College

The Chandulal Chandrakar Medical College, Durg, is owned by Chandulal Chandrakar Memorial Hospital (CCMH), a private company directed by Mangal Prasad Chandrakar, who is the uncle of Chief Minister Baghel's son-in-law, Kshitij Chandrakar.

Chandulal Chandrakar, after whom the institutes have been named, had been a Union minister and a Congress MP from Chhattisgarh's Durg. The hospital was built as a memorial to the politician after his death, in 1995.

The college, which had taken a massive loan to deal with its financial paucity, as per an Indian Express report, had lately found itself in a quagmire. Accused of fraudulent activities by the Medical Council of India (MCI) in 2018, the college had also lost its MCI recognition status that year.

Despite the red flags, the medical institution, which is heavily debt-ridden, is allegedly being acquired at a price double its value by the state government.

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Why Did the Chhattisgarh Government Propose to Acquire the College?

The financially-strapped hospital had placed a request with the state government for acquisition of the college.

According to the newly-passed Bill, the state government finds that the immediate acquisition of the college is "necessary in public interest," The Indian Express reported.

"Meeting with the students and some parents of Chandulal Chandrakar Medical College today. They were worried that the government might give up on its intention to take over the college. I have assured them that the steps taken by the government for the future of the children will not lag behind," CM Baghel had tweeted on 28 July, a day before the Bill was passed.

What Did the Chhattisgarh Government's Contentious Bill Propose?

The Chandulal Chandrakar Medical College (Acquisition) Bill, which was passed a day after it was tabled in the state Assembly by Chhattisgarh Medical Education Minister TS Singh Deo, proposes the government's acquisition of the college.

The Bill proposing the acquisition of the debt-ridden college has invited the widespread censure on various grounds.

According to the newly-introduced legislation, while the liabilities of the institute will be borne by its owners, the state government will conduct a valuation of the movable and immovable properties of the college, after which it will pay twice the ascertained amount to the institute's owners.

The Hindustan Times quoted Section 8 of the Bill as saying: “... the payable amount considering the inevitability of the acquisition would be double of the actual valuation amount.”

Further, the Bill mandates that no action can be taken against the special officer, who will be appointed by the government to undertake the valuation of the assets of the college, Indian Express reported.

Moreover, the Bill spells the termination of employment for the existing employees of the institute.

What Were the Amendments to the Bill Suggested By the Opposition?

BJP MLA Brijmohan Agrawal proposed three significant amendments for the Bill in the state Assembly on Thursday:

  • The government retain the existing employees of the medical institution

  • The exclusionary powers of the special officer be retracted

  • A clarification on who would bear the loans taken against the college.

Countering the amendments suggested by the Opposition, Singh Deo said, “The government cannot absorb private employees as hiring a government employee is a structural process. Once the college is acquired, we would follow the process and hire the employees. Similarly, the special officer will have to have powers to take decisions and not be affected by external factors,” as per the report.

The amendments were rejected after a vote in the Assembly, wherein 56 members voted against the amendments, while 16 voted in favour.

Opposition's Protests

Speaking against the Bill in the state Assembly, BJP MLA Brijmohan Agrawal claimed that it went against the spirit of the Constitution.

He further alleged that the Bill sought to benefit certain persons.

The Opposition member also observed that the government had proposed to undertake the acquisition of the college without conducting a valuation of the assets.

"Without carrying out prior valuation of the assets, the government decided to acquire it. How can it waste public money by paying double of the actual valuation?" Agrawal said, citing the provisions of the Bill, news agency PTI reported.

Former Chhattisgarh CM and BJP Vice President Raman Singh raised his doubts regarding government's decision to purchase the debt-ridden college, even as the Medical Council of India had made a recommendation to discontinue the recognition of the college three years ago.

"The Bill has been brought to ensure relief to directors of college from debts," Singh was quoted as saying by PTI.

The Bill, dubbed as a 'black law' by the Opposition, was passed after the Assembly rejected the amendments to the Bill that had been suggested by the Opposition.

The Opposition members staged a walkout in the Assembly to register their dissent, PTI reported.

A number of BJP leaders also took to Twitter to voice their protest against the newly-passed Bill.

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What the Chhattisgarh Government Has Said

Claiming that he has always done politics with transparency, CM Baghel dismissed allegations of vested interests levelled against him in relation to the newly-passed Bill.

"Various speculations are being made about the news published regarding the Chandulal Chandrakar Medical College. They are all baseless. This is an attempt to save the future of a medical college and hundreds of students in the state. This will save the time of setting up a new medical college. and each year the state will gain 150 doctors," Baghel said in a tweet.

"This news is a controversy stemming from the height of imagination. I challenge it," he further stated.

Chhattisgarh Health Minister TS Singh Deo, who presented the Bill in the state Assembly, noted that the acquisition of the college was a step towards improving the availability of public health facilities in the state.

“This is the best option to start a government medical college in the state with limited resources,” Deo was quoted as saying by HT.

“When COVID-19 was at its peak, these hospitals were saving lives. The government is acquiring a readymade medical college with several students in it, to save their future and to ensure that the district has a medical college so that it can get good doctors. As an erstwhile student leader, I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill,” Congress MLA from Durg, Devendra Yadav, was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.

(With inputs from Indian Express, Hindustan Times, PTI)

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