In a major development, the Delhi High Court on Friday said students from open school can also take the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) while upholding the CBSE’s upper age limit of 25 and 30 years for general and reserved categories, respectively, to apply for the pre-Medical test considering the limited number of seats and large number of aspirants in India.
A bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Chander Shekhar dismissed the petitions challenging the age limit while hoping that age and subject restrictions would not be required in near future.
Restriction on open school board candidates unreasonable
The bench was of the view that the MCI has “proceeded on prejudice and assumption or a priori ex hypothesis predicated on the belief the students/candidates who do not attend regular schools, because of financial hardship and social reasons, are inferior and less deserving and turn downs. Such presumptions must be resoundingly rejected as contrary to the constitutional ethos and would clearly violate both Article 14 and right to opportunity to acquire professional degree”.
“NEET is a centralized and a single window examination, conducted in a transparent manner. This is a true and sure test of competence, caliber and aptitude. Professional degree would be awarded to students who meet the exacting standards and qualify the MBBS course. Impugned prohibition in the form of disqualification of students/candidates of open school Board would not meet the constitutional standard of reasonableness and test of interest of general public. The restriction in the nature of prohibiting students belonging to open school Board is therefore disproportionate and unreasonable to the purported evil sought to be remedied, i.e. to filter out students who are not interested and do not have the caliber and intellect to undergo and clear the MBBS course,” it observed.
The court went on to add that, “[h]igher level of knowledge is liberating, enabling and empowering to those who suffer from prejudice and are financially challenged. Efforts have to be made and law must permit inclusion and not exclusion of such persons from portals of knowledge. Indian Constitution recognizes the affirmative action as an extension of the principle of equality. It would be unfair and unjust if we on vague and unsubstantiated pretence of unfitness close the door of knowledge on candidates, who have done class 12 from open school Boards. The restrictions envisaged would not only be unreasonable but would perpetuate inequality and hamper promotion of egalitarian social order and justice”.
“… we would accept that every person should be given an opportunity to compete for selection for neither age nor subjects studied in school matter, when the person has competence and calibre clear the entrance examination and successfully complete the MBBS course. Multidisciplinary approach in medicine and other fields is now accepted as necessary and beneficial. There are several countries that do not subscribe any restriction on age limit or the course/subjects studied during schooling without sacrificing quality and calibre. Midlife change in profession should be accepted and should not treated as a disqualification.
“However, in the present context and background in India, given the limited number of seats and large number of aspirants, it is difficult to hold that the upper age limit is not a reasonable restriction, which has been imposed in the interest of general public. Hopefully, in near future, this situation would change, and age and―subject constraint and restriction would not be required and necessary,” said the bench.
Age limit valid, but court empathizes with wardboy with desire to become a doctor
While dismissing the challenge to the age limit for NEET, the court noted that one of the petitions seeking age relaxation was filed by Ritinath Shukla, a 45-year-old ward boy who wished to become a doctor.
“...Petitioner submits that they should be given preference and they want to upgrade their skills as a compounder/ward boy to that of a qualified doctor. We can empathize with the desire of Ritinath Shukla to appear in the NEET examination to qualify to selection to a medical college, but do not think this can be a ground to allow the writ petition and grant relief. We have already examined the question of upper age limit above,” said the bench.
The bench further said, “…need to put the upper age limit was necessary as there are approximately 61000 seats for MBBS course in government and private medical colleges in the country. There has to be a level playing field for selection amongst lakhs of candidates who appear every year (in 2017, about 11 lakh candidates had appeared). It is obvious that a candidate who is 17 or 18 years of age will find it difficult to compete with a candidate who is above 26/31 years of age and has been studying for last 7 to 10 years or even more only to get admission to an MBBS course,” the court noted.
It rejected the contention of the petitioners that no upper time limit has been prescribed for completion of the MBBS course after admission to acquire a degree and said, “[I]t would not in our opinion make the proviso prescribing the upper age limit for selection as arbitrary and unconstitutional. These are two separate aspects. Failure to prescribe an upper time period to complete MBBS course may be an anomaly, which it can be argued requires a correction (on which we give no direction). It will not be a ground to strike down the impugned proviso which is justified and necessary, as invalid and unconstitutional”.
(a) Proviso to clause 4(2)(a) of the Regulations disqualifying recognized open school Board candidates is struck down and declared unconstitutional. Students/candidates, who have done class 12 from NIOS or recognized open school State Boards, would not be treated as per se disqualified for selection and appearance in NEET. Their NEET results, when otherwise eligible, would be declared with other candidates.
(b)Proviso to clause 4 prescribing upper age limit of 25 years in case of general category candidates and 30 years in case of reserved category candidates is legal and valid. To this extent, the writ petitions challenging vires of proviso to clause 4 of the Regulations are dismissed.
(c) In respect of private students, MCI has already issued a clarification, which appears to have satisfied grievance of the private candidates. In the light of the said clarification, no arguments have been addressed before us and, therefore, we have not decided or adjudicated on the said issue/aspect, the court said.