A Supreme Court-appointed panel has vetoed a government move to cap the age of students and the number of attempts they are allowed to clear a top all-India exam for entry into undergraduate medical schools.
The panel, headed by former chief justice RM Lodha, said it was in favour of striking down the government’s eligibility criteria because there is a “dearth of doctors in the country”.
In January, the government issued an executive order limiting to three the number of times a student could take the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). It also capped the eligibility age of candidates at 25 – both decisions made on the recommendations of the Medical Council of India (MCI). Within days, the government’s order faced legal challenge from students.
‘The Lodha panel made its recommendations on February 28. Hindustan Times reviewed the communication on Thursday.
The Supreme Court will take up the panel’s suggestions on March 20. Should the court accept those, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), which conducts NEET, might have to rework the applications process that closed on March 1.
Earlier, an eligible student above the age of 17 could apply, and there was no cap on the number of attempts. The Lodha panel’s letter to the government did not make any suggestions on an upper age limit or the number of times a student could be take the exam.
Over the past few years, undergrad medical studies in India have been mired in controversy. In 2013, authorities introduced the NEET as a single, nation-wide entrance test for top state-run and private medical schools.
The move, initially opposed by many states, was aimed to end multiple exams and corruption in admissions. The exam was also challenged in court and the top court struck it down in 2013 before restoring it with changes three years later.
The government’s eligibility restrictions this year led to new protests from students.
Last May, as part of its efforts to clean up medical education in India, the top court had asked Justice Lodha to head an oversight committee for the MCI.
Asked about the Lodha panel’s eligibility recommendations, Arun Singhal, joint secretary in-charge of medical education in the union health ministry, refused to comment, saynig the matter was sub-judice.
Neither the MCI nor members of the oversight committee responded to HT’s telephone calls and text messages.