The past two years have seen students with disabilities knocking on the doors of various courts to gain admissions in medical colleges after clearing their medical entrance examinations under the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). During the same period, courts have rejected various discriminatory guidelines by the Medical Council of India and AIIMS, Delhi experts against persons with disabilities vis-a-vis medical entrance examinations.
The NEET (Undergraduate) 2019 information booklet that released earlier this month, however, reflects neither the updated information nor the amended laws. This has led to a confusion among students with disabilities about whether they are eligible for and should apply for these examinations at all.
A paediatrician whose child has learning disability, said on the condition of anonymity that the Supreme Court had last year allowed admission in medical courses for such students as they fall in the category of 21 disabilities covered by the Right to Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.
“These children have learning disability and cannot read like other children do. However, there are different techniques by which they learn. By the time they reach the age of 17 or 18, their learning abilities become crystallised. So they are able to appear for competitive examinations as well,” she explained.
She added that while the government has set a 40% parameter to be considered disabled, the issue with learning disability is that it cannot be quantified. Yet, she said, the Supreme Court upheld the rights of such students for admission but NEET has failed to clarify whether they qualify to appear for the tests.
Determining eligibility of each student with disability necessary
A professor at a government medical college in Tamil Nadu who is seeking admission for his visually impaired child said he had written to authorities on the status of various categories of disability but failed to evoke any response.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the professor added that as per existing guidelines, there is no scope for admission in such cases. “However, the Supreme Court had last year provided admission to such students. So I am thinking of applying for the examination for my child and later fighting it out in court if the need arises,” he added.
He said another area of concern, is whether the decision on who qualifies under the disability category is taken by just one person in the Medical Counselling Committee. “Ideally, there should be a panel for each category. Even the Supreme Court had constituted a panel when it gave admission to a low-vision student last year.”
Activists approach Ministry, other authorities for clarification
With the last date of submitting the admission forms being November 30, disability rights activists have approached the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as also various authorities for clarity on the issue.
Talking to The Wire, Dr. Satendra Singh, founder of Doctors with Disabilities: Agents of Change, said students suffering from various kind of disabilities and their parents have been impacted by the opaqueness around the admission process. “It is discriminatory for the National Testing Agency to start the online application process for NEET 2019 as there is no clarity yet on guidelines for candidates with disabilities. This will give undue advantage to non-disabled candidates.”
Singh also charged that the brochure still contains the old details of disability assessment boards that exist in the metro cities. He said these were increased to nine after court intervention.
The disability rights activist said a need to broaden the assessment boards was felt as the All India Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation had denied examining candidates with specific learning disabilities. However, he said, the details of the new boards are missing from the brochure. According to Singh, the brochure is also silent on the eligibility of 20 disabilities mentioned in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016. He said it only has a proforma on page 97 for Disability Certification.
The Doctors with Disabilities has, in a letter marked to the National Testing Agency, the Medical Council of India, the Ministry of Health, the Medical Counselling Committee and the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, pointed out that that there was incomplete information about the admission criteria on Ministry of Health, MCI and Medical Counselling Committee websites.
“I have been receiving calls from worried parents who want to know if their wards even qualify to appear for the medical entrance examination under NEET. There are doctor parents whose children are suffering from minor visual disability. They do not qualify as per the old guidelines but made the grade under the revised ones and as per the recent court orders. So there should be clarity on this from the authorities,” said Singh.
In the case of the candidates under PwD category, he said, the MCI guidelines mention that “Five percent seats of the annual sanctioned intake shall be filled by candidates falling under Persons with Bench Mark disabilities as per MCI Guidelines/Regulations in accordance with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.”
“If the seats reserved for the persons with disabilities in a particular category remain unfilled on account of unavailability of candidates,” the guidelines say, “the seats would be included in the annual sanctioned seats for the respective category.”
Singh said while candidates are required to consult the website of MCC (www.mcc.nic.in) and MoHFW (www.mohfw.nic.in) for latest information in this regard, these sites still show the old MCI guidelines.
“These guidelines by the Medical Council of India on admission of persons with specified disabilities were controversial,” said Singh, pointing out that Indian Journal of Medical Ethics had published articles on how they were “unfair, discriminatory and unlawful”.
Writ petitions were filed against these guidelines in the Supreme Court to amend these. As many as 75 doctors with disabilities had also petitioned the Central government to quash these MCI guidelines.
Thereafter, Singh said, the Ministry had on the directions of the Supreme Court set up a high-level committee and amended controversial MCI guidelines. “They also took into consideration the representation of 75 doctors with disabilities. The amendments were produced before the apex court based on which many candidates with disabilities got admission into MBBS.”
Singh also recalled how these amended guidelines too were set aside in case of Ashutosh Puruswani, a low-vision candidate, who was granted MBBS admission despite objections by the MCI and the AIIMS medical board. However, he said, “these modified MCI guidelines are yet to be ratified and approved by the Ministry and the MCI Board of Governors (BoG).”
Stating that the Board meeting is still due, Singh said under the existing circumstances it is discriminatory on the part of the National Testing Agency to start the online application process for NEET 2019. He demanded that the process be halted till all the information is uploaded.