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No clarity on final guidelines for medical entrance test, disabled aspirants still in the dark

Our Story of the Week looks at the confusion and anxiety that besets disabled aspirants with the Medical Council of India and the government failing to issue the final guidelines for medical entrance exams.

With just two days left before the National Testing Agency (NTA) closes the correction window for medical aspirants with disabilities to make corrections in their admission forms, there is widespread panic and anxiety.

The medical entrance test is scheduled for 5 May, 2019 and the lack of any clarity hangs like a dark cloud. PR* from Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, who wants to remain anonymous, told NewzHook, "We are trying not to let this affect our preparations, but it is hard not to worry".

PR*, who has is 42% hearing impaired, stands to lose a year and a career option. A plight that is staring thousands of disabled aspirants in the face, all due to the biased attitude of the Medical Council of India, as well as the apathy of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.

Despite the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016 stating all disabled students are eligible, the NTA, which conducts medical admissions test, NEET, continues to exclude people with certain disabilities.

An attitude that is totally at odds with the stand taken by the Supreme Court as well as various high courts. The MCI guidelines released in November last year did not reflect these court orders, saying, "40% or more visually impaired (low vision and blindness) are not eligible for a medical course".

Stalling tactics

NewzHook has access to the minutes of the various meetings held by the MCI Board of Governors (BoG) since October last year, which make it clear how indifferent their approach to the matter is.

As early as October 2018, minutes show that one of the BoG members pointed out that the list of 21 benchmark disabilities for NEET were yet to be gazette notified despite repeated reminders from the Ministry. The decision taken was that these would be sent to the Ministry and NTA. To date, that has not happened. A subsequent meeting on 6 December to decide the upper percentage limit for all 21 categories of disabilities amounted to nothing as the decision was deferred.

When the board met again on 20 December to decide on the same matter, it was recommended that the final decision about be made by 24 December. Again, there has been no movement forward.

Delays that parents like KB from Haryana call "harassment tactics". KB", who did not wish to be identified, has a son in Class 12 who is visually impaired. His son has his heart set on becoming a doctor and has been studying in earnest for two years.

We have applied under the disability quota and the Supreme Court order is to our advantage, but that is for an individual case so we will have to go to court if the guidelines don't change. I am determined to legally challenge this because this is just harassment of students and parents, nothing else. I have not discussed any of this with him because right now I want him to focus on his Board exams and the medical entrance. - KB, Parent of disabled aspirant

What the MCI is not bargaining for is the anger and outrage among aspirants who are determined to fight back. PR*, who is taking the NEET for the second time this year, says he will take the matter to court if needed.

"Last year when I was declared, I gave up. Then I heard about students who went to court and I filed a case too, but the seats were all taken. This year I am faced with the same issue though the Act clearly states that people with over 40% disability are eligible. If I file under the quota, I risk being disqualified. But I am determined not to back down because this is sheer injustice".

Disability rights crusader Dr Satendra Singh, who has been speaking out against the MCI's discriminatory guidelines, says the right thing to do is to extend the correction facility deadline. "What non-disabled policymakers do not understand is that people with disabilities also have same rights, hopes and aspirations as everyone else. These candidates with disabilities are not asking for sympathy, but the legitimate fundamental right to pursue medical education after competing on merit".

High time the MCI recognized this, as well as the extraordinary grit and determination shown by these students.

ALSO READ: The wheelchair has given me wings to fly! - My Take by Dr Divya Singh

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