The Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) Corporation that provides healthcare facilities to industrial workers has decided to step into the field of medical education. In an innovative move, it will set up 28 medical colleges and start post graduation courses by the next academic session. “From service provider we are going to be a medical education network. We are setting up 28 medical colleges by the 2009 academic session,” said Pravash C. Chaturvedi, director general of ESI Corp. “We are aware that there is a shortage of doctors and it’s no different for ESI hospitals across the country. By the next academic year, we are planning to start 500 seats at the post graduation level,” Chaturvedi said in an interview. He said the ESI Corp, which is under the Ministry of Labour and Employment, aims to set up a medical college in every state and become self-reliant. “The adding of 500 medical seats will help aspiring students every year, and in return we will get qualified doctors to serve in our own hospitals. “A while ago we had put our proposal before the health ministry and have already got the go ahead. We have the capital and manpower, and now have the ministry’s support too,” he said. The ESI Corp is associated with over 331,000 factories and establishments across the country and provides benefits to about 10 million workers and their families. “There are over 40 million beneficiaries,” he said. It applies to industrial workers drawing wages up to INR 10,000 per month. The ESI Corp was started with two centres – Delhi and Kanpur – in 1952. The corporation currently has 144 full-fledged hospitals, 42 hospital annexes, 1,388 dispensaries, 1,942 panel clinics and 300 diagnostic centres across the country. Chaturvedi said the existing network of ESI hospitals would help the corporation in implementing the plan. “We have the basic infrastructure and what we need to do is to upgrade it, add laboratories, other necessary equipments.” Minister of State for Labour and Employment Oscar Fernandes had told IANS recently that the ESI Corp has opened its doors to millions of labourers working in the unorganised sector. “We are upgrading our system to fulfil our own requirement and extending it to workers in the unorganised sector,” Fernandes had said. Chaturvedi said “a new medical college will cost them INR 2.5 billion” and the ESI has adequate funds. The Planning Commission has said this year that India faces a shortage of about 600,000 doctors.