With the online application process for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET-UG) 2019-20 set to close in just three days, aspirants with disabilities remain in a bind. Reason: The Medical Council of India (MCI) is yet to notify the revised guidelines for admission to MBBS courses under the disability quota.
The MCI made its draft guidelines public on November 16, inviting suggestions and objections by November 30, which is, importantly, also the last day for submission of NEET application form.
This essentially means that the eligibility of candidates with disabilities will be decided on the basis of draft MCI guidelines that categorises several disabilities as ineligible even as the Supreme Court and high courts have ruled otherwise.
Doctors with Disabilities, a pan-India body of doctors with disabilities, has already written to MCI to extend the last date to fill the NEET-UG 2019-20 form and also allow candidates with disabilities to reconsider their application if they have already registered.
Dr Satendra Singh, a member of Doctors with Disabilities and Associate Professor at University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi, said: “On the very day the online application process for NEET for 2019-20 through National Test Agency (NTA) began on November 1, we brought it to the notice of MCI Board of Governors, NTA, Ministry of Health and Welfare that the MCI guidelines were not updated and that candidates with disabilities are still in dark about it. If candidates apply under the disability quota and it turns out later that they are ineligible, they will miss a chance to sit for the entrance test. If they apply through the general quota, they then lose out the entitlement provided to them by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 (RPDA).”
Neither the MCI or MCI BoG has responded to them, said Dr Singh, adding he has been getting calls from worried parents of disabled candidates who are not sure if they should apply under the general category or the disabled quota.
The medical test is scheduled on May 5, 2019.
Doctors with Disabilities has, meanwhile, termed the revised MCI draft guidelines for admission into MBBS courses under disability quota as — yet again — “unfair, discriminatory and unlawful”. In a letter to the MCI, the body has stated that the draft MCI guidelines are also violative of various rulings of the Supreme Court and high courts related to admissions of disabled students in MBBS course.
The draft MCI guidelines state “that persons with more than 80 per cent locomotor disabilities – cured leprosy, cerebral palsy, dwarfism, muscular dystrophy, acid attack victims and others — may be allowed to take the test, but after their selection, their functional competency will be determined with the aid of assistive devices”.
Responding to this, activists say “fixing an upper limit to a disability is violative of the Rights of People with Disabilities Act as well as the Constitution”.
In the letter, they have cited the example of Dr Suresh Advani, a hemato-oncologist and wheelchair user with 80 per cent disability, who is also a Padma Vibhushan and a BC Roy awardee. They have also stated many of the signatories in the letter have more than 80 per cent disability and are successfully working as doctors in government institutions.
The draft MCI guidelines also state that “40 per cent or more visually impaired (low vision and blindness) are not eligible for a medical course”.
Rejecting this rule, Doctors with Disabilities state that “new tools and technological innovations have opened doors for those with limited vision” as it cited a Supreme Court judgment that upheld the claim of a medical aspirant with “low vision” to be admitted in an MBBS course in Gujarat
It also countered another MCI guideline — hearing impaired (deaf and hard of hearing) equal to or more than 40 per cent disability are not eligible — with a Delhi High Court judgment that allowed a 70 per cent hearing impaired girl to pursue MBBS at a medical college in Delhi.
The revised MCI guidelines also mention that cases of 80 per cent disability due to chronic neurological conditions are not eligible for admission in MBBS courses. Countering this, the activists have cited that the Supreme Court earlier this year allowed a candidate with more than 80 per cent chronic neurological disability to take admission in a medical college. As seats in state medical colleges were filled by then, a seat has been reserved for the person in the next academic session 2019-20.
The activists have also termed as discriminatory debarring of people with 80 per cent disability due to blood disorders like haemophilia, thalassemia and sickle cell disease.