New Delhi: The Medical Council of India (MCI) recently told the Delhi high court discriminatory regulations for post-graduate medical education have been amended. It told the court that people with over 80% disability would no longer be completely barred from being admitted to medical courses.
However, this has not enthused disability rights activists or students with disabilities as they want the MCI guidelines, which they insist are discriminatory, to be quashed.
The MCI told the Delhi HC that candidates with over 80% would now be considered on a case by case basis. They would be evaluated for functional competency while they are using assistive devices.
The submission means little to doctors with disabilities who have completed their MBBS but are being denied admission to the post-graduate MD course. Already several such doctors have gone to court against the MCI directives.
Good enough to be doctors, but not specialists
Recently, the candidature of Anjani Bala, an MBBS doctor from Ranchi, was denied admission to the post-graduation medical course. Bala was evaluated at the Safdarjang Hospital in Delhi. She graduated from the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (IGIMS) in Patna and secured an 80,506 rank in the NEET PG, making her eligible for specialisation.
Talking to The Wire, Bala questioned the logic behind the denial of admission when she has already completed her MBBS. She also interned with all departments.
“If I am found okay to do MBBS, then why am I not able to do MD? If I can do rotatory internship – working with each and every department, both clinical and non-clinical – then why don’t I qualify for MD?” she asked.
Bala said she was not given an opportunity to explain her case to the doctors who evaluated her. “I was just handed a certificate by the staff,” she said.
Bala said she was also surprised by the result of her medical test, which said she was 80% disabled. Earlier tests said she was 70% disabled. She is planning to move the court against the rejection.
Dr Mohammad Shaloo also challenged the MCI guidelines barring admission in PG courses to doctors with over 80% disability.
‘Some PwDs being discriminated against’
The founder of Doctors with Disabilities: Agents of Change, Satendra Singh, said in January this year he wrote to the Union health ministry and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment about “continuous discrimination” against PwDs in the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET).
The letter pointed out that the National Testing Agency (NTA) began the online application process for NEET (UG) without any clarity on guidelines for candidates with disabilities. The brochure referred to the old MCI guidelines.
It said these guidelines were challenged in the SC, which directed that seats be reserved for candidates with disabilities who lost a year because of the MCI’s “discriminatory and unlawful guidelines”. However, this was not reflected in the 2019 brochure.
Singh also reminded the government that the MCI’s board of governors did not finalise the new guidelines in December or the first two weeks of January. Candidates with disabilities and their parents were kept under tremendous stress, he said.
“The exam is on 5th May, 2019 and guidelines are yet to be finalised,” he wrote, claiming the board of governors was “deliberately wasting time and playing with the emotions of people with disabilities.” He called it a “deliberate tactic to devoid such people of ample time to file litigations in the courts.”
MCI guidelines with anomalies notified in February
Though both the ministries did not react to the anomalies, the MCI guidelines for NEET UG were gazetted in February. Singh filed a writ in the high court on February 26 to seek quashing of the guidelines for being discriminatory. The matter will be heard on April 4.
“In the meantime,” he said, “Dr Shaloo was declared ineligible in NEET PG because of these same guidelines. Dr Anjani, who has polio, was also declared ineligible at the Safdarjung Hospital due to these guidelines just days before the counselling was to start.”
Singh said, “The key issue is that post our representation last year, the Ministry of Health modified controversial clauses in the MCI Guidelines and the Supreme Court allowed admission to one, Ashutosh, based on that. However, as the MCI was dissolved and the board of governors was constituted, they approved these modified guidelines during their third meeting.”
But in the February notification, he said, “a key clause was removed which now debars those with more than 80% disability” from seeking admission.
‘New regulations only benefit those with locomotor disability over 80%’
On the MCI’s submission to the Delhi high court that the regulations have been amended, Singh said, “It only solves the problems of those having locomotor disability of over 80%.”
The problems for several other categories persist. “Those who have one hand amputated can’t get admission. Last year, there was an SC judgment in the Muskan Sheikh case from Gujarat. The court asked why can’t she become a doctor as only one hand is amputated. So she got admission. But the new regulations require both hands and defy the SC’s observations.”
Likewise, Singh said those with blood disorders haemophilia, thalassemia and sickle cell disease were also barred. “Those having more than 80% of these disease are not eligible. This is an invisible disability.”
The doctor said, “The question is when you can allow those with 80% locomotor disability – which may include wheelchair users – then how can you debar others with different disabilities?”
‘Those with dysgraphia, neurological disease being left out’
In specific learning disabilities too, the MCI guidelines are discriminatory for both the UG and PG admissions through NEET. “This includes dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia. Here dysgraphia has been removed from allowed categories. So why have the other two categories been allowed and not this?” he asked.
Similarly, in chronic neurological diseases, he said over 80% cases are not being eligible for admission. Again, a candidate from Haryana was admitted on court orders, but the rules still prohibit such admissions.