Madras high court sets aside order allowing 16-year-old girl to write NEET this year
The Madras high court has set aside a single-judge order that permitted a 16-year-old student to write the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for medical admissions this year, for which a candidate’s minimum age should be 17 years as of December.
The National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts the NEET opposed Sree Harini’s plea to write early. The high court, which had earlier permitted the student, later rejected her request upon the NTA’s plea challenging the first order. The court stated that it would be unfair to other students and courts across the country which will be flooded with such applications. NEET is scheduled for September 12.
The CBSE student, who hails from Tamil Nadu’s Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district, had topped her school in Class 10 and this year she scored 487/500 in her Class 12 board exams. As per NeuroPsychological reports, she also had an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of 143.
“We tested her first at age two because her speech stuttered and the doctors said that she had the maturity of a 4-year-old that was affecting her speech,” said the petitioner’s father G Saravana Kumar, a paddy farmer. Again, in Class 10, she received a certificate of ‘superior intelligence’. In 2019, on her behalf, her father submitted a representation to the NTA seeking permission to participate in NEET 2021, which was rejected.
But only this year, they filed a writ petition seeking to quash the rejection order. A single-judge bench permitted her to appear for NEET subject to her IQ results tested at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru. With a certificate from NIMHANS and the court order, the father and daughter went to Delhi and approached NTA in August as she could not apply online due to her age. The NTA then filed a writ appeal challenging the single judge’s direction.
The petitioner’s counsel ARL Sundaresan argued that she has been assessed to have a high-performance IQ, Verbal IQ and had performed intellectually superior range and her overall memory functioning was also in a superior range and has been certified as eligible for educational service for the cognitively gifted. But she would attain the minimum age of 17 to appear for NEET only next May.
A division bench of Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana and Justice Krishnan Ramasamy on Tuesday declined to grant the student permission to write the exam this year, citing several reasons, including “instant proceedings cannot alter the minimum age, even though this aspect wasn’t in the prayer.” “The prayer of the writ petitioner to permit her to write the examination would tantamount to exempting her of the age prescribed. When there is no such exemption clause available in the Regulations, we cannot traverse beyond the age prescribed,” the court said in its orders.
However, the court said that concerned authorities might consider age relaxation by giving advance notice in a phased manner for the benefit of candidates, saying that a judicial review to reduce the age limit or exempt a student should be refrained.
The court also noted the distinction made by the counsel for the National Medical Commission (NMC) between intelligence and maturity. While ‘intelligence’ is having or showing the ability to understand, learn and think, ‘maturity’ means the ability to respond to a situation in an age-appropriate.
The judges also drew in the status of medical aspirants from rural and poor backgrounds, who do not have access to coaching classes, the latest textbooks and the internet to prepare for NEET. “Many of the students clear the NEET only on a second or subsequent attempt, including those meritorious ones, as they need more time to cover the larger syllabus,” the court said. “While so, if the candidates like the petitioner, who has not fulfilled the age criteria are allowed to write the examination, in the event of her success, it may deprive a seat to another meritorious student, who may not have the age and ability to write the NEET for the second time or third time.”
That NEET puts these students at a disadvantage while competing with urban and affluent students is also a raging political issue in Tamil Nadu, based on which the state government plans to introduce legislation seeking exemption from the examination. Harini has been preparing herself for the NEET and hoped to be the first doctor in her family. “She aims to study in AIIMS or JIPMER,” her father said.
After the court, the father and daughter left Chennai to their home on Wednesday morning. “She is upset. Such an intelligent girl has to wait for an entire year to write an entrance exam because she is underage,” said the father.
Justice Krishnakumar, who said he concurred with “every word” written in the lead judgement (by Pushpa Sathyanarayana), but went into the student’s plight pointing out that the she became ineligible to write the exam this year because she was given a double promotion from Class 7 to 9 and now she lacks 4 months and 5 days to complete the age of 17 years as on December 2021. He added that there was no objection by the CBSE all along.
“Thus, while permitting the first respondent to clear 12th board of examination even before age of 16 by CBSE, which is controlled and managed by the Union of India, considering her intelligence and maturity, the MCI, which is also controlled and managed by the Union of India, cannot take away the legitimate expectation of the respondent by denying her the opportunity to appear for NEET 2021 examination, which will hit by ‘doctrine of legitimate expectation’ and amounts to a denial of the right guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution of India,” the justice said.
However, he concurred that since an age bar is in force, the student cannot be permitted to write NEET early and that the Medical Council of India has to look at the concern of such students and come up with some solution.
The father said with just a few days to go for NEET he wouldn’t be able to go for a further appeal. “I wish I can take this to the Supreme Court for an urgent hearing, but we don’t have the means for more expenditure.”