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Fed up of delays in updated guidelines for disabled MBBS aspirants, activists approach minister

January 19, 2019

"My son, who is 40% visually impaired, is good at studies and has been preparing for his medical entrance exams sincerely for two years. He falls within the quota assigned for benchmark disabilities, but will he be allowed to sit for the exam? I have no idea and I can't sleep because of the worry."

This Haryana father, who wants to stay unidentified, is voicing the concern felt by hundreds of anxious parents. Their sentiments find reflection in an open letter to Health & Family Welfare Minister J P Nadda from Doctors with Disabilities seeking an end to the confusion caused by the delay in the release of updated guidelines for disabled candidates who wish to take the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) this year.

A pan-India group, Doctors with Disabilities has been fighting to make the medical education system inclusive, as mandated under RPWD Act 2016 and United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The group says that despite the Act and several progressive judgements from the Supreme Court and various high courts, the Medical Council of India (MCI) continues to discriminate against disabled candidates.

The National Testing Agency (NTA) began the online application process in November 2018 but there was no clarity on guidelines for disabled candidates as the brochure referred to old guidelines.

Undue delay

This was challenged and a plea made to halt the process until the guidelines were updated. Following this, the MCI issued a public notice seeking suggestions on the updated guidelines. The deadline for this was 30 November, 2018, which seemed like a cruel joke given that it was also the date for the NEET test for undergraduates.

After strong protests, the NTA said students could submit their applications for now and make updated corrections between 14 to 31 January as per the new guidelines.

But even this public notice appeared on the NTA website on the second last day of the closure of deadline and that too with a broken link and the wrong email ID.

The MCI Board of Governors did not finalize the final guidelines in the month of December or in first two weeks of January keeping candidates with disabilities and their parents under tremendous stress. Without the guidelines being finalized, NTA on 14 January 2019 opened the one-time correction facility but they once again kept candidates with disabilities in dark. The exam is on 5 May 2019 and guidelines are yet to be finalised so what is the hurry?.. Considering the stance of MCI in 2018 where they unsuccessfully challenged the capabilities of disabled people.. we fear this is a deliberate tactic to devoid such people of ample time to file litigations in the courts. - Dr Satendra Singh, Disability rights leader

Speaking to Newz Hook, Dr V K Paul, Head, Medical Council of India said the new criteria has been finalized and submitted to the government.

"The MCI has processed the guidelines as per the law and submitted to the Ministry for further action for undergraduates and post graduates."

When asked specifically if the updated guidelines reflect the spirit of various court judgements, Dr Paul was affirmative.

Dr Singh questions the delay in the first place. "It's good if it's as per "law" but why this unnecessarily delay and if it has to be delayed why can't NTA hold this process till these are finalised?"

The scepticism is justified given the resistance the MCI has shown towards this process even when faced with the RPWD Act and court orders. An attitude that left many with no choice but to file multiple cases in 2018 to fight for their rightful due. Will 2019 tell the same story? The next few weeks will decide that.

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