New Delhi: In a major setback to the efforts of streamlining the medical education system in the country, the Supreme Court of India recently struck down the single-window National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) and allowed private medical colleges to frame their own admission norms and charges.
The majority judgement by a three-judge bench headed by then Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, who on the last day of his office, quashed the notification by the Medical Council of India (MCI) for the NEET for admission to both undergraduate and postgraduate medical courses in government and private medical colleges, and in effect disappointed a large section of the medical fraternity in the country.
The court held that the MCI was not empowered to hold all India single entrance test and is only an overseeing body, and that any such attempt by it to hold common exam at all India level is ultra vires.
But many doctors have a different opinion. Some of them believe that the judgment is only a victory of private medical colleges and has brought the situation back to square one in which there is no control over corrupt practices of unscrupulous and money-minded businessmen operating in the field of medical education.
Dr Ashish Goel, senior resident, medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, told AalaTimes, “The judgment is pitiable. It’s shortsighted and clearly taken in haste. There is lack of consensus and improper calculation of the pros and cons before delivering the judgment. It’s only a sad verdict.”
Dr Viren H Shah, internal medicine, Palak Hospital, Anand, told AalaTimes, “The verdict will have a great impact on the level of medical education and standard practice all over India. It would definitely lead to degradation of the quality medical practitioners and the status of the country in providing best healthcare services.”
“We all are aware of the poor level of medical education imparted by a portion of unregulated medical colleges. Can we expect medical passouts from these colleges to justify the profession and ensure that medical ethics and morals are followed by them? There should be one exam for everyone. The logic should be One India – One Entrance,” Dr Shah further said.
Voicing his concern, Dheeraj Kumar, a student of Indira Gandhi Government Medical College and Hospital (IGGMCH), Nagpur, told AalaTimes, “I was preparing for medical exams when the common entrance test was announced by the MCI for the academic year 2013-14. It was like a wish heard by God for students like us. Had it not been quashed, it would have helped us save not only time and resources but would also have taken care of certain malpractices like variable capitation fee that existed in the selection procedure.”
“Our career is in the hands of government and courts who are throwing balls in each other’s court. There is no clarity on the issue and the recent quashing of the NEET is only adding to our woes. The disagreement between state medical colleges and the MCI continues to increase, which is further adding to our problems,” Dheeraj Kumar added.
Dr V V Pillay, professor, forensic medicine and toxicology, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Cochin, told AalaTimes, “It is an unfortunate decision that will have far reaching adverse consequences, and must therefore be subjected to a review by a larger SC Bench.”
Dr Virendar Sarwal, in-charge, department of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Mohali, said, “The verdict is not in good taste. I personally disapprove it. It hampers transparency. The judgment is just an icing on the cake of education as a money minting business.”
“A standard and common medical test would have ensured level of learning and prevented manipulation of seats by different institutions. I feel a mass consensus on the judgment should have taken into account before writing the judgment. An expert panel consisting of members from premier institutions like AIIMS should have been formed and consulted. Seems, the Chief Justice was in a hurry to write the judgment on the last day of his office,” Dr Sarwal added.
Dr R Kanagasabai, professor, department of orthopaedics, Pondicherry Institute of Medical Sciences, venting his discontent on the SC judgement, told AalaTimes, “It seems the judgement by the SC is like an individual’s opinion. As a result of the verdict, a lot of deserving poor students will get eliminated from the race. Only the rich, undeserving and corrupt people will enter the medical profession and will create havoc in the health system. In a decade the health system in our country will go from bad to worse. The recognition abroad may get affected. The dependability of the medical field members will become questionable.”
NEET was aimed at conducting a common medical entrance test for admission to both government and private medical colleges across the country. The proposal for it was given a go ahead in 2011 for the academic year 2012-13. After endless debates over its implementation and interventions by the government and supporters, the country’s first NEET-UG was held on May 5, 2013.
Soon after the MCI issued notification to hold NEET, around 115 petitions were filed in different courts by associations of private and minority medical colleges challenging the notification for common medical entrance test and arguing that state and private institutions should determine their own admission processes.
Hearing their petitions, the Supreme Court held that the MCI notification was in violation of Articles 19, 25, 26, 29 and 30 of the Constitution. It made clear that NEET violated the fundamental rights of state and private institutions, which guarantees a citizen freedom to practice any profession and gives freedom to religious and linguistic minority groups to manage their religious affairs as well as educational institutions.
Dr Ashok Kumar Gupta, a paediatrician in Jammu, questioning the logic behind the rationale by SC, told AalaTimes, “How does it (NEET) take away fundamental rights of state and private institutions when it does not ensure a similar system for aspirants. Economically weak students are at the receiving end of the notorious behaviour of unregulated medical colleges and well-off students grab the seats, thanks to manipulation power in the hands of college administrators. The calculated analysis says that such a fundamental right which creates an environment of biasness and chaos is of little importance in comparison to larger public interest.”
Preeti Singh, a student of AIIMS, New Delhi, told AalaTimes, “Despite the problems of many exams and much expense, it means there is lack of transparency. This effectively kills an attempt to improve the admission process. This is a setback to efforts to ensure only meritorious candidates get seats. More meritorious and deserving students would have gained admission to medical colleges through a common entrance test.”
Dr Ashish Goel said, “I feel just the opposite of SC’s judgement is true. The quashing of NEET is against the fundamental rights of the people to receive standard, equitable and corruption free education for all.”
Dr R Kanagasabai said, “NEET is like IAS, IPS, IRS, etc. It has nothing to do with the fundamental rights. Do the IAS, IPS and other national exams interfere with the fundamental rights? There may be some initial hiccough in the implementation. But once the NEET gets streamlined, it will do more good for our country by creating quality doctors.”
“If the MCI has no jurisdiction of the enforcement of the NEET, which other body has it! The SC should have given the modality of conducting the examination rather than quashing the NEET. Under these circumstances, the government should try to go for appeal and get the NEET in action,” added Dr Kanagasabai.
“MCI is a statutory body consisting of experts panel. The MCI’s Vision 2015 that aimed at standardizing the eligibility criteria of admission and bringing in uniformity across institutes in the country is remarkable and the whole government machinery was involved in formulating a standardized pattern. Its powers should be increased much more than just an overseeing body,” said Dr Viren Shah.
“On the last day of his office, then Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, who is known for delivering milestone judgments, lost his popularity not only among the medical fraternity but also among everyone who is in the field of education. I am in favour of earliest filing of a review petition,” Dr Shah added.
Dr Virendar Sarwal said, “If MCI is not empowered to conduct common medical test, who would regulate the medical education in India. Should we leave it in the hands of private medical colleges to play with the careers and money of budding doctors?”
“At a time when India is facing stiff competition and international demand for its doctors, the basic medical education system is in tatters. The need of the hour is to correct the decision and give a smile to future generation of doctors,” he said.
Dr V V Pillay said, “It is a sad reflection of the mindset of the judiciary that they should feel that a national regulatory body overseeing medical education in India has no power to enforce an examination (NEET) in the interests of the students.”
Reacting on the statement by the Supreme Court that NEET could not ensure a level playing field given the disparity in educational standards in different parts of the country, Dr Ashok Kumar Gupta said, “Well, if that is the reasoning, then the court must consider banning the Civil Services Examination which through a single-window test chooses officers for IAS, IPS, IFS and other central services.”
“Why did everyone oppose when last year IIT Delhi and few others proposed to conduct separate exams. If disparity in educational standards is the logic then all IITs and IIMs should be allowed to conduct separate entrance tests,” said Dr Sarwal.
Arguing strongly against the statement (disparity in educational standards in different parts of the country), Dr Pillay said, “There is no substance to this argument, which appears more of an excuse than a real reason to quash NEET.”
Dr Viren Shah said, “While NEET was given a go-ahead by the apex court itself in December 2010 following which a gazette notification was issued for its implementation, the current judgment is clearly a retracement from its responsibility to provide free and fair education system.”
Dr Ashok Kumar said, “I urge the health ministry to immediately seek legal advice and file a review petition as applying for multiple examinations will again involve huge expenditure — such as cost of the admission form and money spent on travelling to various examination centres — besides other variation in the examination pattern. The verdict has only increased students’ hardships.”
Clearly, the public displeasure, especially among medical professionals, is loud and clear. Only a review of the judgement or any possible amendments to the existing provisions either to allow the MCI or constitute a new empowered body to conduct single entrance can subside the restlessness among them.
by Vidhi Rathee
According to media reports, the union health ministry is already considering to file a review petition against the Supreme Court verdict.
Dr L P Thangavelu, president, IMA (Indian Medical Association) Tamil Nadu, has welcomed the Supreme Court verdict.
The following ad was recently circulated on social media as an aftereffect of the SC judgement: