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Acupuncture may get legal status

The central government proposes to include acupuncture, the ancient Chinese system of curing disease by piercing the body with needles, as a full-fledged medical system. Though some doctors admitted this system promoted by Mao provides limited relief but so far there was no scientific evidence to back this claim.

An order to this effect was issued by the Health Ministry on February 21, constituting a 10-member Apex Committee on Acupuncture under the Chair-manship of Dr VM Katoch, former Director General of ICMR for the “purpose of promotion and regulation of Acupuncture as a system of Healthcare/Therapy.”

This order has shocked and angered doctors, especially those who have been in the vanguard of fighting the menace of quackery as a mission for decades.

Talking to this writer, Dr Anil Bansal, Chairman of the Anti Quackery Cell of the Delhi Medical Council says, ”There is no quackery law in the country as such. We are governed by the 1956 Act which prescribes a punishment of up to Rs 1,000 and a jail term of up to one year. The offence is also bailable. What is a fine of Rs 1,000 in today’s time? But no one is interested in amending the law because it suits everyone.”

Explaining this serious lacunae, Dr Bansal — who appears in court at least twice a month for cases dragging on for eight to ten years — says that any offence under the IPC is bailable where the penalty is less than three years.

The DMC Act was amended recently to increase the punishment but the official legal beagles have been clever enough to change the language to punishment up to three years which again makes it bailable and the SHOs are happy to get them bailed out.

Plus this amendment has also added an explanation which reads that “the DMC will not be able to take action against practitioners of Ayurvedic, Homeopathic, Unani and other systems”, he revealed.

The problem is not in the practice of alternative systems being recognised by the government but the crime is that those possessing degrees in Ayurveda, homeopathy, acupuncture and magnetotherapy are prescribing allopathic medicine. Whereas an MBBS candidate has to spend at least five years to clear that exam.

Dr Bansal revealed that he had asked the police to register cases against fake doctors under Sections 419 and 420 of IPC which deals with impersonation and cheating but no one wants to take this step because the healthcare system is so patchy that it suits the government to allow everyone who has a degree in any system of medicine.

But this is actually illegal because the Supreme Court definition of a quack is:  “A person who does not have knowledge of a particular system of medicine but practices in that system and a mere pretender of medical knowledge or skills.” Yet they proliferate.