SC pulls up govt over changes in NEET-SS entrance pattern
The Supreme Court on Monday told the Union government not to “treat doctors like footballs”, and gave it a week to reconsider its decision on last-minute changes in the entrance examination pattern for super speciality medical courses.
The National Eligibility Entrance Test for super specialty courses (NEET-SS) is to be held on November 13 and 14. The examination was notified on July 23, but on August 31, the National Board of Examinations (NBE) came out with an information booklet announcing a change in the examination pattern starting this year.
This led to complaints from doctors sitting for the exam since they had prepared based on the pattern used since 2018. NBE’s decision was challenged in the apex court by 41 doctors led by Prateek Rastogi, and notices was issued last week seeking a response from the Centre.
A bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and BV Nagarathna on Monday pulled up the government for its late decision. “You can’t play with the lives of these young doctors in this manner. What was the urgency for you to change the examination pattern after the notification for the examination is issued? Just because somebody has power, you think you can wield it in any manner. Don’t treat these doctors as footballs in this game of power,” the bench said.
The Union ministry of health & family welfare was represented by additional solicitor general (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati, NBE by senior advocate Maninder Singh, and the National Medical Commission (NMC) by advocate Gaurav Sharma.
The bench asked the three lawyers to get their clients to consider deferring the decision for this year since the doctors have put in years of preparation, and are to appear for the examination in just two months. “We are dissatisfied with the way the authorities have acted. Be prepared for strictures to be passed on next date if you cannot set your own house in order. We cannot allow these young doctors to be placed at the mercy of these insensitive bureaucrats,” the bench said.
In all, roughly 16,000-17,000 post graduate doctors appear for NEET-SS for admission to DM, M.Ch (Master of Surgery) and DrNB (Doctorate of National Board) for getting admission to over 4700 seats.
The information booklet for NEET-SS released on August 31 said that all the questions would be from general medicine, which is a feeder course. Since 2018, 60% of the questions for the exam have been from the super specialty course opted for by the candidate, and 40% of the questions from the feeder category, which also included general medicine.
The petition by the doctors, filed through advocate Javedur Rehman ,said: “The petitioner aspirants who have had the most challenging experiences of their professional lives in this time, being at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19, have all through this period prepared for the NEET-SS 2021 exam legitimately expecting that the pattern is unchanged, just like it was in the previous three years.”
Finding fault with the proposed new pattern, the petition argued that if all questions are from general medicine, it will put students from four of five broad postgraduate specialities at a serious disadvantage. Postgraduates from general medicine, anaesthesiology, emergency medicine, paediatrics, and respiratory medicine are all eligible for Doctorate of Medicine (DM) course.
Singh, who represented NBE, told the court that changing the examination pattern was not a last-minute decision. “The authorities are mindful of the situation. The exercise for change of examination was going on for a while. The final notification got delayed as NBE was under an impression that approval of ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW) and NMC is pending. When they realised these were already in place, they issued the August 31 notification,” he said.
To this, the bench replied: “The pattern of study will depend on the pattern of exams to be given. Students begin preparations at least two years in advance. They will be unnecessarily ruffled. Why rock the boat after the notification has been issued? At least allow this batch to go through.”
It told ASG Bhati to convene a meeting of MoHFW with authorities from NBE and NMC and take a call before next Monday, when the matter will be heard.
“If you are right, we will dismiss these petitions. But be open to strictures from the court on the manner your officers have gone about this decision,” the bench said.
Referring to how the authorities at NBE or NMC could also be doctors who passed through the same grind, the bench added: “These doctors who have come on the panel of NBE cannot play with the lives of these young doctors having come from the same system.”