The lone crusaderDr KC’s demands must not fall on deaf ears again. The surgeon’s call for reforms in the medical sector must be heard
On a Sunday afternoon, as another bout of monsoon downpours descended onto the Valley, people began filing into the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH). Dr Govinda KC, a lone crusader who has consistently taken a stance against, what he terms, the medial mafia and the prevalent malpractices in the medical education system, was about to declare a fast-unto-death protest. All eyes were on the doctor as he patiently waited for some of his team members to arrive from Prime Minister’s Office where they were holding talks. Once the members arrived with news that the talks were inconclusive, Dr KC declared that he would begin his eighth fast-unto-death.
The fasting doctor
In these highly polarised times, it is obvious that Dr KC has both supporters and detractors. This protest, however, has been particularly divisive as one of his demands is the impeachment of Lok Man Singh Karki, chief commissioner of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), the nation’s anti-corruption watchdog.
Dr KC has always openly spoken against the CIAA when the constitutional body has breached its jurisdiction. In one of his previous fasts, he had even demanded a parliamentary probe on the CIAA and its head-honcho Karki.
But let’s first look into why Dr KC is demanding Karki’s impeachment.
On May 26, the Kathmandu University was preparing to conduct a routine entrance examination to its post graduate medical programmes. Out of the blue, CIAA officials and police stormed the university and decided to conduct the examination themselves, alleging that the questions to the exams had already been leaked. While it might be the responsibility of the watchdog to ensure fair examinations, the act of preparing the entire set of questions and conducting examinations, is well and beyond the institution’s jurisdiction.
Furthermore, the manner in which KU officials relented to the CIAA might need a further probe, but the incident has put a serious question mark over the ethical conduct of the entire university. The incident is even more jarring given that Dr Ram Kantha Makaju, the vice-chancellor of KU, never fails to elucidate on the high ethical conduct of the university.
In this backdrop, Dr KC wrote a few articles protesting such blatant interference on part of the CIAA, eventually deciding to sit for another fast when those demands fell on deaf ears once again. Furthermore, Dr KC points out that in the past, the CIAA has written letters to the Tribhuvan University asking it to make arrangements to provide affiliation to medical colleges run by party cadres. Also, it has been actively involved in allocation of medical seats, which are again well beyond its jurisdiction.
A citizen has every right to protest against government office bearers in a democratic system. But is it acceptable to fast seeking the removal of one particular individual? Is a system fair if a single individual can be ousted from a position over public protests?
These are questions that need to be handled carefully, given the implications it can have on future decisions.
There is, understandably, a general public consensus about Dr KC’s integrity and the cause he is championing. Some of his current demands have been put forth in other fasts he has sat in since 2012. The demands, including fairness while appointing officials and ending political meddling in universities, have been brought to the fore repeatedly in the past.
This, if anything, shows that protests in Nepal are largely unable to institutionalise or pressure the government authorities to implement agreements once the protests have ended. On a flip side, it also shows the government remains disconcertingly apathetic to causes raised by the general public.
Fear of the CIAA
Talk to any bureaucrat. All of them are wary of the CIAA. This is because when the CIAA takes on government officials, it first issues a press statement providing details of the case. Then cases, filed at the special court, take a few years to conclude. Yet, even if the CIAA’s charges are unfounded, the careers of these bureaucrats remain forever tarnished. As a result, as a general rule, bureaucrats profess it is better to remain mum on the CIAA rather than speaking out.
Similar issues have emerged in the eight protests that Dr KC has undertaken. Some of the senior doctors and professors who once actively supported Dr KC’s causes are nowhere to be seen now. During some off-the-record talk, they blame the fear of a CIAA retribution as the reason for their non-participation.
Interestingly, this time around, even the District Administration Office wrote a letter to the TUTH asking it to bar protests inside the hospital premises. The Dean’s Office also was quick to issue a statement warning action against any official involved in the protest. Some of these doctors have even been barred from the committee that monitors the health condition of Dr KC.
Once in a lifetime
It’s been over five days since Dr KC began his fast and his health condition continues to gradually deteriorate. As of this writing, the government is yet to make a move towards addressing his demands. The issue has been further complicated as politicians are busy horse-trading on the formation of new government. If the government was already sceptical about Dr KC’s demands, recent political development has become a welcome excuse and distraction.
But what we really need to understand is that Dr KC is fighting for a system and for reforms in the health education sector. His fundamental argument being that a person should pursue medical education on the basis of their talent, not based on the power or money they are able to wield.
This is Dr KC’s eighth fast and most medical professionals agree that he cannot and should not continue much longer. Here is hoping that both sides are able to rise above the pettifogging and find a viable solution. The nation needs it. There might not be another Dr KC in our lifetime.