The Supreme Court on Monday slammed the Central government, National Board of Examination (NBE), and National Medical Commission (NMC) for making last-minute changes in the exam pattern of post-graduate National Eligibility cum Entrance Test-Super Specialty (PG NEET-SS) 2021.
“Young doctors cannot be at the mercy of the insensitive bureaucrats and cannot be treated like a football”, said a Bench of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice BV Nagarathna. The Bench took into note that the new syllabus looks more like the final exam and less like an entrance examination.
Post-graduate doctors had approached the apex court alleging the last-minute change in exam pattern for NEET-SS 2021.
The notification for the examination was issued on July 23 2021, however, on August 31 another notification was issued changing the pattern of the exam when only two months remained before NEET-SS 2021 exams scheduled to be held on November 13 and 14.
“Just because you have the power you are wielding power like this. Please speak to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to look at this. Don’t treat these young doctors as football in this game of power,” the Bench told counsels appearing for the government, National Board of Examinations (NBE) and NMC (National Medical Commission).
“Hold a meeting of all three agencies and set your house in order. We cannot let the young doctors be at the mercy of the insensitive bureaucrats,” the top court added.
While taking into consideration that the exam syllabus was changed after notification of the exam, the Bench told them, “We are now dealing with young doctors who will appear for super speciality exams. You notify the exams on July 23 and you change the syllabus by August 31. How can you do this? Why cannot it be made from next year? Students prepare for months for such exams. We will hear you but we are dissatisfied with the authorities.”
Senior advocate Maninder Singh appeared for NBE said, “It’s a well-considered decision that was going on for some time, final approval was awaited and as soon we got the approval it was notified.” The petition filed by 41 qualified post-graduate doctors from across the country who aspire to become super-specialists by cracking NEET-SS 2021, sought direction for striking down the changes in the exam pattern.
The plea challenged the move of the government on the ground of lack of authority as well as being manifestly arbitrary.
The plea alleged that the exam pattern for the NEET-SS course has been altered only to favour those who have done post-graduation in general medicine at the cost of other disciplines.
The plea said that as per the prevailing pattern which has been in existence from 2018 to 2020, 60 per cent marks were allotted from questions in the super speciality while 40 per cent distributed for questions from feeder courses.
However, as per the new pattern, the entirety of questions for the critical care super speciality will be drawn from generic medicines, it added. “This leaves students from other disciplines at a great disadvantage and the authority should not have brought these changes after the exam notification was issued, and after the students had begun their preparations, doctors have contended,” stated the petition.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan appearing for the doctors had contended that it is a well-settled principle that the rules of the game cannot be changed after it has started.
“They have all along been preparing in terms of the pattern that has been in place for the last three years, especially because on earlier occasions — 2018 and 2019 when changes in the pattern/scheme were proposed to be made, the changed pattern/scheme was made public almost six months prior to the NEET-SS exams to ensure availability of ample time to the students for making preparations,” the plea further stated.
On the last date of hearing, the apex court had issued notices to the Centre, NBE and NBC over the doctors’ plea. Today, the Bench posted the matter for hearing next Monday and granted time to the government, NBE and NBC to file their response.