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Government steps in for disabled candidates, deadline for online MBBS admissions extended to 7 December

In a last minute intervention, just hours before the online application process for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET-UG) 2019-20 was to close, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW) has stepped in to bat for disabled candidates who wish to study medicine.

On Thursday evening, the National Testing Agency (NTA), that conducts the NEET exams, issued a notification that disabled candidates can fill in the online application form on the basis of the draft guidelines given on the website of the Medical Council of India (MCI).

In the event any changes are made in this draft notification, the candidate can correct the details of his/her application when the facility to do so is made available between 14 to 31 January 2019.

The last date for submitting the online application has also been extended up to 7 December 2018.

The move will bring immense relief to thousands of anxious parents and students. From the very first day that the online application process started, Doctors with Disabilities, a group that has been campaigning against discriminatory practices in medicine, had drawn attention to the fact that the MCI guidelines were not updated, and that disabled candidates were unaware of the fact. This put them in a double bind. If they applied under the disability quota and were later declared ineligible, they would miss the chance to take the entrance test. Applying in the general category put them at the risk of losing out on the entitlement given under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.

The continuous insensitivity of MCI BoG and NTA is appalling given that the issue was brought to their notice on the very first day. Thanks to MoHFW, they have been forced to extend the deadline, although it has come late. There needs to be accountability on the part of public servants whose inaction causes suffering to anxious candidates and their parents. - Dr Satendra Singh, Doctors with Disabilities

Calling it "an act of psychological violence on candidates with disabilities", Dr Singh says the MCI BoG's stand in the matter has been in total violation of the position taken by the Supreme Court and various state high courts which have consistently upheld the rights of disabled candidates to pursue medicine. Instead of taking note of these judgements and changing the guidelines, the MCI made the weak move of seeking a public consultation on the matter. And that too just days before the deadline for online admissions was to end, making it an exercise in tokenism.

"The draft guidelines of the MCI are so violative of the RPWD Act and recent court judgements!", says Rati Misra, Senior Advisor, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP). "t's almost archaic that technology, aids and assistive devices have been completely ignored while deciding eligibility criteria for people with hearing and visual disabilities. While we have doctors like Dr Suresh Advani who make the country proud, our decision-makers with little or no understanding or experience of disabilities play God, playing with the ambitions and aspirations of young people with disabilities".

However, as Misra points out, it is too early to celebrate. Given the MCI's close-minded and unhelpful position in the matter so far, the fight is far from over.

For now, aspirants like Sachin Malik are savouring the moment. Malik has an invisible locomotor disability and was denied MBBS admission in a Haryana government medical college despite making it to the merit list under the 'physically handicapped' category. He had to fight two battles, one in the Punjab and Haryana High Court and later in the Supreme Court before the decks were cleared for his admission. However, he lost a year as the disabled quota for 2018 had been filled.

"I am very happy to hear this news", said Malik speaking to Newz Hook. "I had fought this battle not just for myself but for thousands of other disabled MBBS aspirants like me. Hopefully they can all apply now".

ALSO READ: 'Involve US' - A stinging, eloquent response to discriminatory guidelines in MBBS admissions

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