Health Ministry Delay on NEET Criteria Leaves Disabled Students in a Lurch

With the Medical Council of India and the Union health ministry yet to finish updating the guidelines for the upcoming exam, candidates with disabilities have no clarity about how to proceed.

New Delhi: With time running out for applicants for medical college entrance exams this year, the health ministry says it is still deliberating on key guidelines which can affect the chances of candidates with disabilities.

In 2018, the Centre had issued a brochure on the NEET exam for medical college entrances. It explained that candidates with disabilities were eligible to apply, in keeping with the spirit of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

A number of candidates with disabilities applied to give the exam only to be told in mid-2018 that the terms for eligibility were different – the Medical Council of India had by then come out with draft guidelines which created a number of problems for India’s disabled community.

Also read: NEET Silence on Revised Admission Norms Leaves Students With Disabilities in the Dark

Even more inconveniently, disabled candidates who successfully clear the exam can still be rejected. The government wants their “functional competence” to be assessed only after they study, pay for, write and pass the exam.

Candidates only have until the January 31 to get their corrected applications in.

No clarity

But the Medical Council of India and the Union health ministry have yet to finish updating the guidelines.

Two MCI officials said they have finished updating the guidelines by taking feedback from various stakeholders who had objected to provisions in it. “MCI had a recent meeting on this. We have forwarded it on from our side to the health ministry,” said one senior official at MCI.

Another said that according to the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, “MCI is not supposed to finalise anything, we can only make recommendations to the Union government. It is not our responsibility.”

But two health ministry officials working on medical education said the MCI should speak up about  whether the guidelines have been finalised or not. One official said that the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) is also reviewing the guidelines. More so, yet another committee was constituted to examine them.

These developments have led to panic for candidates with disabilities.

“The aspiring students do not know if they are at all eligible to sit for these exams in the general category or the disabled category,” says Dr Satendra Singh from the collective Doctors with Disabilities. “Thinking they are eligible, many of them had applied. The MCI’s guidelines are against the 2016 Act. Now the government is not clarifying their status.”

Also read: Data of Hundreds of Thousands of NEET Candidates Leaked Online, Put up for Sale

While the MCI has to draft the guidelines, factoring in much of the feedback from the public, it is the responsibility of the health ministry to finalise them. But with the government still taking its time over the guidelines, disabled candidates have been left in a lurch.

How do the draft guidelines discriminate against people with disabilities?

In 2016, the parliament passed the ‘Rights of the Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2016.’ There were only seven recognised disabilities until then, but the new law expanded the number to 21. The new list included locomoter disabilities, dwarfism, mental illness, intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and thalassemia. It also included acid attack victims and people cured of leprosy.

Although the NEET brochure for 2019 repeatedly says that people with disabilities specified in the 2016 Act are eligible to apply for the exam, the MCI’s guidelines have prescribed exclusions that activists see as arbitrary and unfair.

First, the guidelines exclude a number of people from being allowed to write the exam. For example, the draft guidelines say that people with a visual impairment, hearing impairment, dyslexia of more than 40% disability, will not be eligible to give medical entrance exams. It says people with blood disorders which give them a disability of more than 80% will not be eligible.

More so, those who do give the exam will be filtered once again upon clearing it.