Delhi High Court has refused to set aside National Board of Examination's decision to extend the completion of the training period of the final year students of Diplomate of National Board (DNB).
While holding that NBE is not bound by the Advisories of Medical Council of India, the Single Bench of Justice Asha Menon noted that the doctrines of promissory estoppel and legitimate expectation doesn't apply to matters of education.
The order has come in a petition seeking the setting aside of Public Notice dated 04/04/20, by the NBE, which has extended the period for completing the training of final year DNB students by a period of six weeks due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic.
Arguments made by the Petitioners
The Petitioners argued that the NBE had no powers vested in it to vary the training period, which has been in a discriminatory manner as it pertains only to the final year students and not to the first and second year students.
While citing that the disputed notice suffers from uncertainty as it uses the phrase 'till further orders', the Petitioners submitted that the said extension of training period seriously affected their careers as they could not take up job offers from various hospitals.
Calling the explanation given by the NBE a sham, which had cited COVID19 as a reason for the extension of completion period, the Petitioners contended that the Medical Council of India had itself exempted the doctors in their super-speciality training programmes, including the D.M. and M.Ch. from Covid-19 duties and there was no reason why the training of the Petitioners was required to be extended.
Arguments Advanced by NBE
Appearing for the Union of India, ASG Maninder Acharya submitted that the extension of training was justified in public interest in that, due to the disturbance caused by the COVID19 pandemic, fresh infusion of DNB candidates was not possible as the entrance exam cannot be held and if the final year DNB students are allowed to leave, it would have resulted in an exodus with no infusion, leading to a vacuum, which would have adversely impacted the public health system.
While arguing that promissory estoppel cannot apply to issues of education, Ms Acharya contended that the final year students are much more skilled than the first year and second year students and therefore, they were all of different categories and there was no discrimination.
Observations of the Court
The court refused the Petitioners' argument regarding the public notice being ambiguous by noting that what is known to the world at large as constituting "special circumstances", particularly to doctors working in the hospitals, even as DNB trainees, did not need spelling out in the Public Notice.
While holding that NBE is an independent body which is not bound by the Advisories of MCI, the court observed that just because the MCI has exempted their D.M. and M.Ch. trainees from detention for extended training, the NBE is not bound to follow suit to similarly exempt the DNB trainees who are in super-speciality.
Therefore, the court observed, NBE is vested with supervening powers which include the extension of training period in extraordinary or special circumstances.
While rejecting the argument of the Petitioners regarding the violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, the court observed that:
'the first year, second year and third year students are not 'equals' as they are at different levels of skills. Moreover, as rightly pointed out by the learned ASG, it is the movement of the final year students from the hospitals that would create a gap in health services. Further, as the first and second year students are still available at the hospitals they shall have the time to continue their training in specialized fields, once the acute and emergent demand on health services eases. That may not be the position if the third year students are allowed to leave with whatever training they have received. Therefore, the Public Notice dated 04.04.2020 is not discriminatory and is based on intelligible differentia and bears nexus to the objects sought to be achieved.'
While noting that the doctrine of legitimate expectation cannot apply to the present case, the court highlighted that doctors cannot seek that a vested personal interest be placed above public interest, as they are the only ones who can take care of patients with their skills and aptitude.
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