The Tamil Nadu government has asked Dr M G R Medical University in Chennai to conduct an “impartial probe” into the alleged “unauthorised collection” of at least Rs 22 lakh from final-year MBBS students of a prestigious government medical college in the name of conducting practical exams.
The move came after the University submitted a report on “unwarranted and unethical practices of collecting money” at Stanley Medical College “to show gratefulness to the departments” and “to arrange accommodation and food” for external examiners. The University has also suspended several internal examiners of the college from its official examination panel.
“We have now asked the University to conduct an impartial inquiry. We cannot compromise on examination malpractices. We will get to the root of this issue. We will see if it was an isolated incident or a common practice. We will send out a strong message, and the people behind this will not be spared,” TN Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan told The Indian Express.
Several students of the college told The Indian Express that the money was “collected ahead of the exams with a veiled threat that there is a chance that we may fail if we don’t pay”.
They said they received a message on a WhatsApp group for final-year students, days ahead of the exams from April 29-May 8, to pay a “minimum of Rs 10,000” each. There are about 250 final-year MBBS students in the college and at least 220 are believed to have paid up, sources said.
“Guys, most of us know that some amount is being collected for final year practicals every year. The same will be followed this year. A minimum amount of Rs 10000 will be collected. This is being collected for the wellness of us. Do send it to your respective batch reps within 25th of March by means of online transaction your rep has. Instructions for the payment will be given by your batch representatives,” said the message posted by a student.
“All of us sent the money through Google Pay to the class representatives who were aware of this fund collection from the beginning,” a final-year student told The Indian Express.
When contacted, Dr P Balaji, the college dean, said he had no role in the “illegal cash collection”. “I was not aware of this,” he said.
However, Dr Sudha Seshayyan, Vice Chancellor, Dr M G R Medical University, told The Indian Express that the University received a complaint from “a student who failed in the practical exam allegedly for not paying the amount”.
“The dean received the complaint and he forwarded it to me. There was an inquiry conducted with the complainant as well as the internal and external examiners. The complainant was in tears when the inquiry was held online. But the inquiry committee concluded that she failed because she didn’t perform well. We will now conduct a detailed inquiry; an exam reform committee will also look into it. Pending inquiry, I have placed the examiners involved in the process under suspension from the exam panel,” she said.
According to the University’s inquiry report, all the internal examiners from the college’s departments of medicine, surgery, obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatrics have been “temporarily suspended” from the panel. The report does not identify the examiners.
Another final-year student told The Indian Express that after the inquiry began, they were informed that a “balance amount” would be returned soon. “After the inquiry was ordered on the fund collection, there was a message in our WhatsApp group that there is a balance of Rs 5.76 lakh after all expenses, and that it will be returned soon,” the student said.
The University’s inquiry report states that the complainant obtained 193/300 in General Surgery, 127/200 in Gynaecology and 60/100 in Paediatrics but failed in the General Medicine clinical examination, for which the money was sought — she scored only 43, seven short of the minimum requirement.
“She said she refused to pay as she realised it was a bribe as there was no receipt. Going through her track record, it is very unlikely that she would have failed in normal circumstances,” an official source said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a senior faculty member described the collection of money as a “usual practice in private medical colleges”. “They collect and pay half of the amount to external examiners. But this is a government college,” the faculty member said.
But Vice Chancellor Seshayyan said: “Due to the pandemic, external examiners had mostly conducted exams online. So there was no need for any money to be spent on their stay or food. Even if they had come in person, there were government facilities and guest houses.”