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NEET-SS 2021: Last Minute Changes Can't Be Made; Don't Treat Young Doctors Like Footballs - Supreme Court To NMC, NBE

Shruti Kakkar
27 Sep 2021 11:07 AM GMT
NEET-SS 2021: Last Minute Changes Cant Be Made; Dont Treat Young Doctors Like Footballs - Supreme Court To NMC, NBE
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The Court has suggested NBE and NMC to implement the changes from next year and has posted the case next week for further consideration.

The Supreme Court on Monday questioned the National Board of Examinations and the National Medical Commission over the last minute changes brought to the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test-Super Specialty (NEET-SS) Exams 2021.Considering a writ petition filed by 41 PG doctors challenging the "last minute" and "abrupt" changes, a bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and BV Nagarathna...

The Supreme Court on Monday questioned the National Board of Examinations and the National Medical Commission over the last minute changes brought to the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test-Super Specialty (NEET-SS) Exams 2021.

Considering a writ petition filed by 41 PG doctors challenging the "last minute" and "abrupt" changes, a bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and BV Nagarathna asked the authorities why the changes can't be enforced next year.

The bench asked why the changes in pattern were notified midway after the students had started preparations.

"Why has the notice been issued? Students start preparing for super specialty courses months & months in advance. Why is the need to change the same last minute before the exam? Why can you not proceed with the changes from the following year?", Justice Chandrachud asked Senior Advocate Maninder Singh who was representing the National Board of Examinations.

"Mr Sharma, what is the NMC doing? We're dealing with lives of doctors. You issue notice & then change the pattern?", the judge asked Advocate Guarav Sharma, the counsel for the National Medical Commission.

The NBE's counsel submitted that the changes were "well-considered" and were in contemplation for some time, and were enforced after the necessary approvals were obtained. He sought for time to file reply.

Dissatisfied with this response, Justice Chandrachud said, "Don't treat this young doctors as footballs in the game of power. Hold the meeting and put your house on order. We can't put these doctors at the mercy of insensitive bureaucrats".

The bench asked the NBE and the NMC to consult with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and "set the house in the order".

"This is so important for their career. Now you cannot introduce changes last minute", Justice Chandrachud reiterated.

"The pattern of study is according to pattern of exams. if you change it suddenly then what will happen?", Justice Nagarathna added.

The bench warned that it will issue "strictures" if the authorities don't come up with a solution after the meeting.

"Please be open to strictures of the Supreme Court if we are not agreeing with you. Deal with young doctors with sensitivity. You cannot deal with their lives like this", Justice Chandrachud said.

The matter will be considered next week.

The writ petition was filed by 41 qualified post-graduate doctors from across the country challenging the "abrupt" and "last-minute" changes made by the National Board of Examinations for the exam pattern of National Eligibility cum Entrance Test-Super Specialty (NEET-SS) 2021

Last week, Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the petitioners, had submitted that notification for the examination, scheduled to be held on November 13/14 this year, was issued on July 23, 2021. However, on August 31, 2021, another notification was issued changing the pattern of the exam.

As per the prevailing pattern which has been in existence from 2018 to 2020, 60% marks were allotted from question in the super specialty while 40% distributed for questions from feeder courses. However, as per the proposed pattern, the entirety of questions for the critical care super specialty will be drawn from general medicines. Mr.Divan argued that this leaves students from other disciplines at a great disadvantage. He submitted that the authority should not have brought these changes after the exam notification was issued, and after the students had begun their preparations. The senior counsel argued that it is a well settled principle that the rules of the game cannot be changed after it has started.

Details of the petition

Doctors in the petition filed through Advocate Javedur Rahman had stated that although the dates of NEET SS 2021 was announced on July 23, 2021 but the changed pattern was made public more than a month thereafter on August 31, 2021 when only 2 months remained before NEET SS 2021 exams scheduled to be held on November 13 and 14.

In this context, the petitioner had submitted that they have all along been preparing in terms of the pattern that has been in place for the last three years, especially because on earlier occasions i.e. in 2018 and 2019 when changes in the pattern/scheme were proposed to be made, the changed pattern/scheme was made public almost 6 months prior to the NEET-SS exams to ensure availability of "ample time to the students for making preparations."

Contending that there was absolutely no reference to the exam pattern/ scheme or any change in the notice dated July 23, 2021 the petition stated that,

"The Petitioners were surprised to see the scheme of the NEET SS exams in Part 4, having undergone a complete change without any sort of advance intimation, with only two months left for the exam whilst the Petitioners have all along been preparing in terms of the extant pattern/scheme of the exam, having absolutely no reason to think that any such drastic change will be made so close to the specified date and without the lawful authority i.e. the Central Government directing to do so."

It had further been contended that neither the National Board of Examination nor National Medical Commission have the authority under any law to make/approve changes to the pattern of exam. To substantiate their contention, the doctors have argued that no provision under the National Medical Commission Act, 2019 empowers the National Medical Commission to stipulate/approve of the pattern/scheme of conducting the NEET-SS exam.

"In fact, S.45 of the 2019 Act very clearly stipulates that the NMC shall be bound by the directions on questions of policy as the Central Government may give in writing to it from time to time. In the present case, the Central Government has not given in writing to the NMC any directions to change the exam pattern as it had indicated in its letter dated 25.1.2018 whereby the NBE was "requested to publish the above pattern for conducting NEET (SS) exam, 2018 and onwards till further orders." In the absence of any such 'further orders' by the Central Government, it is respectfully submitted that the exam pattern as provided therein would continue for each year, starting from "2018 and onwards", the petition also stated.

Reliance had also been placed on Regulation 9 of Postgraduate Medical Education Regulations 2000 to aver that it is only the Central Government through the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare that can make changes to the exam pattern/ scheme of NEET SS exams.

Highlighting the manifest arbitrariness in the decision to change the pattern/ scheme of the exam, the petition further states that NBE and NMC have given a complete go-by to the specific directions of the Central Government to notify the students well in advance.

"They have also departed from their own established practice in the past of notifying the pattern on the announcement of the dates. This is crucial since the date for the NEET-SS, 2021, was announced on 23.7.2021, which is more than three months before the scheduled date of the exam. Respondent No. 1 chose to wait for more than a month and only on 31.8.2021 published the information bulletin with the impugned changed pattern/scheme of exam," petition states.

PG Qualified doctors had also contended that the earlier pattern was conceptually designed to majorly test aspirants in subjects they wish to expertise in with some percentage on basic subjects but the new exam pattern would end up in aspirants taking super speciality subjects which they do not even like.

"In the end this system will produce doctors who do not have a complete passion for the super speciality," doctors have averred in their petition.

In light of the above-mentioned facts, doctors along with seeking for declaration of the information bulletin dated August 31, 2021, illegal and in excess of delegation of powers conferred by the NBE and NMC had also sought for seeking to declare only the Central Government through the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is empowered under existing laws to carry out changes in pattern/ scheme of NEET SS Exams.

Relief for restoration of the scheme/exam pattern for NEET SS 2021 along the same examination scheme on which NEET-SS, 2018 – NEET-SS, 2020 were conducted had also been sought for. In an alternative, PG qualified doctors due to paucity had also prayed for non-implementation of the changes in exam pattern in respect of NEET SS 2021.

Case Title: Dr Prateek Rastogi & Ors v National Board of Examination and Ors



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