Published: 26th January 2021
Why Rajah Muthiah Medical College's students have been protesting for the last 50 days through hell and lack of water
The fees that RMMCH is charging is 30-fold higher than other Tamil Nadu medical colleges and three-fold higher than private self-financing medical colleges, the students claim
On the eve of Republic Day, protests across the country were being planned and executed by farmers and their kin. In the city of Chidambaram in Cuddalore district too, medical students held up flashlights all night for the 50th day in a row to protest exorbitant fee rates. The students of Rajah Muthiah Medical College and Hospital which is affiliated to Annamalai University have been protesting for almost 50 days against the administration’s demand for fees that are similar to a private college despite the college becoming a government institute in 2013.
The students are being charged Rs 5.6 lakh for MBBS while a government college charges Rs 13,600 for a year and for MD/MS, the college charges Rs 9.6 lakh while a government college demands Rs 30,000. For BDS, the government college rates are Rs 11,610 and RMMCH demands Rs 3.5 lakh. For MDS, the college demands Rs 7.8 lakh, while a government college charges Rs 30,000. Self-financing private medical colleges charges, the students, claim are considerably much less than their administration.
“The fees that RMMCH is charging is 30-fold higher than other Tamil Nadu medical colleges and three-fold higher than private self-financing medical colleges,” the students say. The students point out that the Tamil Nadu Higher Education department had sanctioned Rs 2000 crore as Grant and Financial support to the University between 2013-2020. “This amounts to double the fund allocated to other government universities under the Tamil Nadu Higher Education department. Annamalai University gets 45-50 per cent of the total grant allotted in the annual budget of the state’s Higher Education department for entire universities in Tamil Nadu,” the students argue.
The College has maintained that they informed the students of the fees in the prospectus, claiming that the students, therefore, have no right to protest. The students began their protest on December 9, 2020 and carried it on for 42 days without affecting patient care services. However, when they didn’t get any response from the authorities, they stepped up the protest by boycotting outpatient services for seven days after informing the authorities. Following this, the administration shut down the campus. They closed the hostels, asked the students to vacate and cut off the electricity and water supply as well.
The students are accusing Annamalai University of imposing its financial liabilities due to alleged administrative irregularities on the students. “In 2013, the government found that serious administrative malpractice had occurred in university due to gross abuse of powers and privileges conferred on the founder and by the enactment of the Annamalai University Act 2013, special administrative privileges conferred upon the founder as a Pro-Chancellor had been removed and complete administrative control was taken by the government with the Minister of Higher education as Pro-Chancellor. Now the University is imposing its financial losses and liabilities on students in the name of tuition fees, the students complain.
The University argues that RMMCH is a government college ‘functioning’ in a ‘self-financing’ mode. “Annamalai University administration claims that the university has huge liabilities and RMMCH and RMDCH are government colleges functioning in a self-financing mode. However, as per the 2013 Act Sec 58 (3a, b) RMMCH is said to be established under the 2013 act. No nomenclature of self-financing /self-supporting mode exists in Act,” the protesting students state.
The students claim that as per the Medical Council of India, there is no provision for a government college to function as a self-financing college. “As per the MCI regulations, a college can either function as a trust-run college or a government college. No government college in India claims to be functioning in the self-financing mode,” the students argue.
And that is when the fee was expected to be regularised. But it did not happen. “The Committee shall thereafter bestow attention and fix an appropriate fee structure for the academic year 2013-14 onwards. It goes without saying that if the fee structure fixed by the University is found by the Committee to be inappropriate, consequential benefit and advantage shall be given to each and every student,” the court had said in 2018. The Supreme Court with this decision set aside the judgement of the Madras High Court in 2016 which has said that Annamalai University was not a government university, and hence the limitations on the fee determined by the Capitation Fee Act 1992 shall not be applicable to it.
The government constituted fee fixing committee for the college has not made students happy either, “One-tenth of the entire university’s expenditure is imposed as fees on students even though the University is running under Government funds. One-eleventh of the examination department expenditure is imposed on students even though the University has government funds. The examination fees have been collected separately from more than one lakh students of all faculties under the university. Excess expenditure towards excess non-teaching and administrative staff over and above MCI/DCI norms has been claimed under fees for students,” the students accused.
The fee burden could be a direct result of just that. Apathy and bad financial management. “The University has received around Rs 2500 crore (2013-2020) from the government. One-tenth of the grants should be allotted to RMMCH towards educational expenditure. But the university denies grants received from the government are to be utilised by medical colleges. The University intends to recover its financial deficits from students through tuition fees.” the young doctors claim.
The students are making four demands to the administration — Not to stop academic activities of students, to collect the 2020-21 academic year fees as an interim measure as per the Apex court order (Fees fixed for private self-financing colleges), to fix RMMCH's tuition fees on par with other government medical colleges and to fix the stipend for RMMCH on par with other government medical colleges.
The students are insisting that the government intervene in the matter. A similar protest took place in 2017 but was called off after 40 days. This time, the students have been blocked from accessing hostels, mess and other facilities including classes. They have set up a kitchen outside on the campus, they are cooking and eating, the college has restored electricity and water after demands. So now, the students say they won’t budge. They will continue to hold out their flashlights through how many ever nights it would take till the government intervenes, the students vouch.