Between 2016 and 2018, the Ayush ministry permitted as many as 138 new and existing ayurveda colleges to run graduate and postgraduate courses in ayurvedic medicine and surgery, even though these colleges lacked teachers, infrastructure, equipment and other staff mandated as the bare minimum by the law. These ill-equipped and understaffed colleges admitted thousands of students.
The Ayush ministry permitted these colleges to run courses by overruling the recommendations of the experts and doctors on board the statutory Central Council of Indian Medicine (CCIM). The council, as required by law, had carried out inspections of these colleges and found them to be under-staffed, ill-equipped and unfit to teach students. The colleges did not meet the mandatory minimum standards prescribed under regulations.
Government documents, which have been reviewed by Business Standard, show that over just two years the ministry overruled the inspection reports and recommendations of the statutory council to approve at least 42 colleges in 2017-18 and 96 colleges in 2016-17 to teach graduate and undergraduate courses in ayurveda.
In several cases, the ministry went by just the claims of the college management made before the ministry officials to overrule the council's recommendations. In every such case, the ministry said the approvals had been granted by the 'competent authority'.
At times, the council wrote to the ministry complaining of colleges that had been approved by it but did not have the requisite minimum teaching staff, equipment and infrastructure in place to run the courses. The ministry simply informed the council that the clearance had been given by the 'competent authority' of the ministry, despite the negative inspection reports. However, it did not point out any particular error in the negative inspection reports or the recommendations of the council.
In 2016-17, the statutory council prepared a detailed list of colleges the government had approved despite the council recommending against it. In 2017-18, the council went one step further. It compiled a detailed report on the specific deficiencies in teaching staff and infrastructure that each college approved by the Ayush ministry suffered from.
Business Standard did not independently verify the council's findings on the colleges.
Ayurveda colleges can charge anywhere between Rs 50,000-Rs 500,000 per year for undergraduate courses of five-and-a-half years.
Union Minister of State with independent charge of Ayush, Shripad Yesso Naik, did not reply to emailed queries by Business Standard, despite repeated reminders. However, the Secretary to the Ministry of Ayush, Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha, did reply.
He said, "If a college is found to comply with the provisions of Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970, permission is granted on merits. However, there are isolated instances of colleges being given permission where Central Council of Indian Medicine have denied. Needless to say, due process of law is followed in all such cases."
Take the case of Jain AGM Ayurveda Medical College and Hospital in Karnataka. The trustees of the college applied for setting up this ayurveda college with 60 undergraduate seats in 2016. The Council of Indian Medicine found that it was "totally non-functional with no staff, no patients, locked OPDs, etc". But the ministry overruled the council and allowed the college in 2017 to run the bachelor of ayurvedic medicine and surgery course for 60 students. The council again warned the ministry about the college but the ministry said the college had been approved by the 'competent authority' after the college representatives made a submission before the ministry.
In another case, when the ministry overruled the CCIM and approved a new college, the Sanjeevani Ayurvedic Medical College in Uttar Pradesh, to teach 100 undergraduate students, the council pointed out that under the law, the college should not be allowed to run as it had a "non-functional hospital and serious shortcomings". The ministry replied, "The ministry has taken a considered decision to grant conditional permission."
Yet another case was of a new college in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, called Ishan Ayurved Medical College and Research Centre. The college asked for permission to take in 100 students for an undergraduate course in ayurveda science and surgery. While the ministry first disallowed the college from doing so, it soon revised its stance, letting the college teach 60 undergraduate students.
There are also cases where the ministry went against the report of the CCIM and increased the seats permitted for ayurveda colleges. One such case was that of Patanjali Bharitya Ayurvigyan Evam Anusandhan Sansthan in Uttarakhand. In October 2017, Baba Ramdev's college was allowed 100 seats for its undergraduate courses, within a month of initially being permitted to offer the course to only 60 students.
How ayurveda colleges are approved
In his response to emailed queries, the secretary Ayush explained how clearances are granted to ayurveda colleges. The CCIM makes recommendations based on their inspection reports, he said. The council's inspection teams check if the applying colleges have the minimum strength of teaching staff, equipment and infrastructure a prescribed in the regulations under the Indian Medicine Central Council Act of 1970.
He noted that if CCIM recommendations are against the grant of permission to a college, an opportunity of hearing is given to the college. This assertion is legally correct.
He did not mention that whether the college management meets the ministry officials or not, the minimum standards prescribed by regulations have to be met before these colleges are allowed to teach. The council continues to believe that these colleges were approved without having the legally required infrastructure and teaching staff.
The secretary Ayush told Business Standard, "Surprise inspections of the colleges are also undertaken by the Ministry of Ayush from time to time to ensure compliance with the Minimum Standard Regulations (MSR) and also to oversee the inspections conducted by CCIM. Whenever there are discrepancies in the report of surprise team of Ministry of Ayush and the report of CCIM, an opportunity of hearing is given to the colleges. If a college is found to comply with the provisions of IMCC Act, 1970, permission is granted on merits."
Evidence for such visits by ministry officials to all these colleges, before approving them, overriding the statutory council's inspection reports, was not presented to the council.
In fact, such counter inspections by the ministry officials overriding those of the experts on the statutory council have been termed illegal by a recent Supreme Court judgement in the parallel case of homoeopathy colleges. The Ayush ministry had giving approvals to homoeopathy colleges overruling the homoeopathy council just as it did in the case of ayurveda colleges.
Ayurveda and unani colleges are supervised by the CCIM under the IMCC Act, 1970, and homoeopathy colleges are supervised by a parallel body, the Central Council of Homoeopathy, under the Homoeopathy Central Council Act, 1973. Both bodies function exactly the same as the two laws and the regulations under them are drawn as near complete copies.
The Supreme Court judgement, dated July 17, draws a parallel with all other such statutory councils for education to decide that the Ayush ministry did not have powers to conduct inspections of its own. It decided that even when the Ayush ministry got complaints against colleges or had doubts about their functioning, it could only ask the council to do yet another check.
These clearances to the colleges by the Ayush ministry, going against the recommendations of the CCIM, began with the National Democratic Alliance government changing the regulations governing minimum standards for ayurvedic colleges in 2016.
The previous rules, introduced in 2012, also set up minimum standards to follow. The rules provided a two-year window period between 2013-15 for colleges that were not equipped or well-staffed. These colleges got a one-year conditional clearance if they fit a lower mandated level of infrastructure and teaching strength. But if these colleges did not get better over the two years, they were to be prosecuted and debarred from teaching from 2015-16.
But with the change of rules in 2016 by the NDA government, the provision for prosecuting them was done away with. Additionally, these one-year conditional clearances were made a permanent feature with even lower standards.
In these 138 cases, the council, based on its inspections, concluded that the colleges did not even match up to the lowered requirements of teaching staff and infrastructure. The ministry still permitted them to teach students.
Low quality of education in ayurveda colleges
The problem of more ayurveda colleges being allowed to run without adequate quality was noticed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare in March 2017. It said, "The Committee notices the significant increase in the number of educational institutions in 2016-17. Attention of the Committee, however, has been drawn to the poor quality of education imparted in educational institutions of Ayush."
The committee recorded the Secretary, Ministry of Ayush, admitting before it that "it is almost similar to the kind of inspector raj that is prevailing in terms of approvals for new institutions of modern science and so on (sic)".
The problem was also put on record by a Maharashtra Member of Parliament, Bhawana Gawali Patil of the Shiv Sena. Back in 2016 December, she wrote to the CCIM warning against the colleges providing degrees but not education.
She noted that ayurveda colleges were being run "without essential higher and junior teaching faculties. Some colleges are suffered (sic) undergraduate and post-graduate degree courses because 35 per cent teaching faculties are shortage for these colleges (sic)." She said that no new colleges in the state should be given permission until this was fixed. However, the ministry continued to give even more clearances to colleges in that year and the next.