The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed pleas to postpone NEET-PG 2022 scheduled for May 21, saying postponement will create chaos and uncertainty and will impact patient care and will cause prejudice to over 2 lakh students who have prepared.
The bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant was considering a petition preferred by doctors seeking to postpone the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test for Postgraduate (NEET-PG) 2022 exam scheduled on May 21 citing a clash with ongoing counselling for NEET PG 2021.
The bench observed in the order as follows :
"As regards to the submission that postponement will not cause prejudice, what must be borne in mind is that there are students who have registered. As the country gets back on the rails after the disruptions caused due to the pandemic, the time schedule must be adhered to.
Any delay in conducting the exam will result in fewer number of resident doctors. This year only 2 sets of doctors are there. The request cannot be entertained due to the reason that it would have affect on the patient care and the career on the doctors.
These are matter which pertain to policy domain. Unless the Court is satisfied that the decision which has been taken by the authorities is without application of mind to relevant circumstances or was manifestly arbitrary, there would no reason for the Court to interfere. Needs of patient care & treatment must be paramount in the clash of the ones who have registered & those who have not registered".
The bench noted that nearly 2 lakh six thousand doctors have registered for the exam. "What must be borne in mind by the court is that there is a large body of students on the other hand and needs of patient care cannot be ignored...Over 2 lakh 6000 doctors have registered, and they will be put to prejudice if the exam is further postponed", the bench observed.
Senior Advocates Rakesh Khanna, Anand Grover and P Wilson appeared for the petitioners. Additional Solicitor General Aiswarya Bhati appeared for the Union Government.
The lawyers of the petitioners pointed out that the Counselling process for 2021 has been going on since May 21 in many states and the students, while running from "pillar to post" for the 2021 counselling, were not in a frame of mind to prepare for the 2022 exams. The petitioners argued that an extension of 4-8 weeks will cause no prejudice to anyone, and will in fact give more time to all students to prepare.
Senior Advocate P Wilson submitted that if the 2022 exams are held as per the proposed schedule, it will create a situation where 2021 and 2022 students are studying in the same year and the colleges do not have the infrastructure facilities to cater to both batches simultaneously.
ASG Bhati submitted that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had seriously deliberated on the issue and took a conscious decision on May 10 to not postpone the exams for reasons bearing on public interest and health care. She submitted that the postponement will have a "cascading effect" on future admissions and other courses. She also highlighted the issue of deficiency of fewer resident doctors in hospitals due to delay in completion of PG admissions. "Any delay would infract upon patient care, since this will lead to fewer number of resident doctors as they are supposed to be three batches of PGS doctors available in hospitals but as opposed to this only two batches are available due to delay", she said. The ASG further submitted that is is necessary to allow the schedule, which was disrupted due to pandemic, to be put back on track.
It was argued in the petition that NEET-PG 2022 aspirants/ candidates should not be made to suffer and be given a fair opportunity of participating in the NEET PG Examination 2022 when the counselling of last year's NEET PG 2021 is still undergoing and likely to be over by 9.5.2022, if not extended or faulted with, for no fault of theirs.
"Some of the petitioners and aspirants are the candidates who have appeared in NET PG 2021 and are participants in the ongoing counselling process which is unlikely to get concluded by 9.5.2022 considering the roller-coaster ride which they have been subjected to since July 2021. The petitioners and other thousands of aspirants are becoming the victim of the system and are made to suffer for no fault of their own," the plea states.
Doctors in the petition had further stated that the doctors cannot be deprived of even filling up of forms for NEET PG Examination 2022, as the last date for it was closed on 25.3.2022 and the petitioners being participants in AIQ Mop-up counselling did not fill form then in hope of getting a seat and now after the cancellation of AIQ Mop-up on 31.3.2022.
"Because of fault of the respondents, the petitioners are now not even allowed to fill forms for NEET PG Examination and thus the candidates neither got a seat in 2021 Examination counselling nor could register for NET PG 2022 Examination and would be wasting a full year without their fault," the petition further stated.
Along with seeking to quash the notification dated February 4, 2022 issued by NBE for holding NEET PG 2022, doctors in the plea have further sought for notification of a fresh date after 8 weeks so that the issue of the NEET PG 2021 counselling exam gets settled.
Relief has further been sought to permit the students to register themselves for NEET PG 2022 as they were participating in counselling for NEET PG 2021 and that the last date of form was March 25, 2022.
The petition was filed by Advocate Ashutosh Dubey and Abhishekh Chauhan.
NEET-PG 2021 was postponed many times due to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 PG exam, originally scheduled to be held in April 2021, was held only on September 11, 2021. The NEET-PG counselling got delayed due to a case pending in the Supreme Court challenging the implementation of EWS-OBC reservation in the All India Quota.
It was in the first week of January 2022 that the Supreme Court allowed the counseling process to start based on the existing criteria for EWS-OBC reservation in AIQ. There were several cases filed against the counseling process as well. On March 31, the Court cancelled the mop-up round counseling in view of anomalies in the addition of 146 additional seats and directed the holding of a special round for the newly added seats. Some petitions are pending in the High Courts as well, challenging the counselling process for State Quota.
In 2020, the Supreme Court dismissed a plea to postpone the NEET exam on the grounds of COVID-19.
Case Title: Dr R Dinesh Kumar Reddy v. Medical Counselling Committee| WP(C) 341 of 2022
Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 486
Judicial Review - Plea to postpone NEET PG 2022 rejected - Unless the Court is satisfied that the decision which has been taken by the authorities is without application of mind to relevant circumstances or was manifestly arbitrary, there would no reason for the Court to interfere- Balancing of priorities in administration is a difficult task. The task is entrusted to the executive and not to courts-As the country gets back on the rails after the dislocation which was caused due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is necessary that the decision which has been taken by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of adhering to the time schedule must be accepted(Para 12 and 13).