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Dr. R. Dinesh Kumar Reddy & Ors. Vs. Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) & Ors.

[Writ Petition (Civil) No. 341/2022]

Dr. Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, J

1 The jurisdiction of this Court under Article 32 of the Constitution has been invoked by MBBS graduate doctors who have appeared for the NEET - PG 2021 and have participated in the ongoing counselling process for 2021- 2022. Their grievance pertains to the schedule which has been prescribed by the National Board of Examinations1 for holding the NEET-PG 2022 examination. The NBE issued a notification on 4 February 2022 by which it scheduled the NEET-PG 2022 examination on 21 May 2022. The petitioners seek the issuance of a direction for :

(i) Quashing the notification dated 4 February 2022 issued by the NBE;

(ii) Postponement of the NEET-PG 2022 examination;

(iii) Notification of a fresh date for the examination after a period of eight weeks so that in the meantime the issue of counselling for the NEET-PG 2021 examination gets resolved and there is no overlap of the former with the NEET-PG 2022 examination; and

(iv) A direction to the respondents to permit students who have participated in the counselling for the NEET-PG 2021 examination to register for the NEET-PG 2022 examination by extending the last date for registration which was 25 March 2022.

2 We have heard Mr Rakesh Khanna, Mr Anand Grover and Mr P Wilson, senior counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioners. Ms Aishwarya Bhati, Additional Solicitor General has appeared on behalf of the respondents.

3 In view of the urgency of the issue, it has been taken up for final disposal on the basis of the submissions which have been placed on the record by counsel appearing on either side.

4 The NEET-PG examination for 2022-2023 is due to be held on 21 May 2022. Registration for the ensuing examination was closed on 25 March 2022. The grievance of the petitioners is that they have not been allowed a fair opportunity to participate, which violates their fundamental rights particularly under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The following tabulation has been placed on the record to highlight the nature of the grievance:

NEET PG 2021 ORIGINAL SCHEDULE

NEET PG 2021 ACTUAL COURSE OF EVENTS

NEET PG 2022 SCHEDULE

Exam Date 11th September 2021 Counselling as per schedule - 24th October to 25th November 2021

Counselling was on hold owing to Court's Order

First Round 12.01.22 to 22.01.22

Second Round 03.02.22 to 12.02.22, extended up to 18.02.22, last date for reporting for Round 2 - 24.02.22

Mop up/Stray - 2nd to 12th March extended up to 23rd March Mop up on hold by Court's order dated 31.03.2022

New mop up/Stray - 14th April to 7th May

States holding counselling till 12 May 2022

1st notification Exam Date - 12th March 2022, however postponed due to Counselling clash.

25th March 2022: Last date of registration

New Date for exams - 21.05.2022

Expected date of Result 20.06.22.

5 The second column of the above chart indicates the course of events in the NEET-PG 2021 entrance examination. The first round of counselling took place between 12 and 22 January 2022. The second round took place between 3 February to 12 February 2022 and was extended up to 18 February 2022. Thereafter, mop up/stray rounds have taken place up to 7 May 2022. The States are holding their counselling sessions till 12 May 2022. The NEET-PG 2022 examination was originally scheduled for 12 March 2022 but was postponed due to a clash with the counselling dates for NEET-PG 2021. This was noticed in a judgment of this Court in Shivam Satyarthee and Others vs Union of India and Others2. In paragraph 4 of the judgment, this Court observed:

"One of the grounds on which the petition under Article 32 of the Constitution was instituted was that there was a likely clash between the schedule of counselling for NEET-PG 2021-22 and the NEET-PG examination for the ensuing academic year. This aspect of the matter has now been resolved as a result of the postponement of the NEET-PG examination."

6 The new date for NEET-PG 2022 has been fixed as 21 May 2022. The results for the examination are expected on 20 June 2022. Senior counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioners urged that the petitioners are doctors who have rendered COVID duties in the past two years and were participating in the counselling process following the NEET-PG 2021 entrance examination and that process was to end on 12 May 2022. However, the stray round of counselling is yet to take place.

It has been submitted that an extension of about two months may be granted for conducting the NEET-PG 2022 for the ensuing academic year. Counsel submitted that representations have been made by the doctors similarly circumstanced and if an extension is granted, this would cause no prejudice to the Union Government while at the same time would provide the petitioners and similarly placed candidates as well as those doctors who have registered, additional time to study for the ensuing examination.

7 Mr P Wilson, senior counsel has placed reliance on a public notice dated 5 May 2022 issued by the National Medical Commission3 which intimated all medical colleges and institutes that the last date for filling information relating to admissions made for Post Graduate (Broad and Super Specialty courses) for 2021-2022 on the NMC portal was extended to 9 May 2022. 8 Ms Aishwarya Bhati, Additional Solicitor General has while opposing the submissions urged that:

(i) The issue as to whether the NEET-PG 2022 entrance examination was to be postponed was a matter of serious deliberation in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. A conscious decision was taken on 10 May 2021 against postponing the examination for reasons bearing on public interest and the needs of medical education;

(ii) Any delay in conducting the NEET-PG 2022 examination would impact the patient care since this would lead to a fewer number of resident doctors in hospitals. There are supposed to be three batches of doctors who are studying for PG courses and are available for patient care and treatment in medical college hospitals. However, only two batches are currently available because of the delay in conducting the examination and any further postponement will be have a cascading effect on patient care, treatment and other ancillary matters;

(iii) The number of doctors who have registered for NEET-PG between the period 2019-2020 and 2022-2023 is indicated in the following table:

Academic Year

No. of Registered

Doctors

2019-20

148713

2020-21

167102

2021-22

177415

2022-23

206541

(iv) The NEET-PG 2022-2023 examination is scheduled to be held in January 2023. Adhering to the current schedule for the NEET-PG 2022 will allow the Union Government to put the schedule back on track which was disturbed thus far due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

(v) The schedule has to be consistent with the order of this Court in Dr Ashish Ranjan and Others vs Union of India and Others4. In Dr Ashish Ranjan (supra), the National Medical Commission5 moved this Court for its approval of the time schedule for NEET-PG, which was granted on 9 May 2022; and

(vi) The Public Notice of the NMC dated 5 May 2022 did not extend the time for completing admissions and as a matter of fact, admissions have been closed on 7 May 2022.

9 While considering the rival submissions, it must be noted at the outset that the academic session has been delayed by a period of four months when compared with the schedule which has been prescribed by this Court by its order dated 18 January 2016 in Dr Ashish Ranjan (supra). The schedule which has been prescribed by the order of this Court is tabulated below:

"Time Schedule for completion of Admission Process for PG (Broad Specialty) Medical Courses for All India Quota and State Quota

S. No.

Schedule for admission

Broad Specialty

All India quota

State quota

1

Conduct of Entrance Examination

Month of December

Month of January

2

Declaration of result of the qualifying Exam/Entrance Exam

By 15th of January

By 15th of February

3

1st round of counselling/admission

Between 12th March to 24th March

Between 4th April to 15th April

4

Last date for joining/reporting the allotted college and the course

By 3rd April

By 22nd April

5

2nd round of counselling/admission for vacancies

Between 23rd April to 30th April

Between 11th May to 20th May

6

Last date of joining for the 2nd round of counselling/admission

By 10th May

By 27th May

7

Commencement of the academic session/terms

1st May

1st May

8

Last date up to which students can be admitted/joined against vacancies arising due to any reason

-

By 31st May

10 The original schedule for NEET-PG 2022-2023 was in the following terms:

Processes

Timelines

Availability of the Information Bulletin

15th January 2022 onwards

Online submission of application

15th January 2022 (3 PM onwards) to 4th February 2022 (Till 11:55 PM)

Edit window for all the candidates

8th February 2022 to 11th February 2022

Final edit window to rectify deficient/incorrect images

1. Photograph

2. Signature

3. Thumb Impression

24th February 2022 to 27th February 2022

Issue of Admit Card

7th March 2022

Examination Date

12th March 2022

Declaration of Result

By 31 March 2022

11 The above schedule had to be revised due to the exigencies caused by the Covid-19 pandemic during 2020-2021. The revised schedule for NEET-PG 2022-2023 is set out below:

Revised dates for online submission of the application form

15th January 2022 (3 PM onwards) to 25th March 2022 (Till 11:55 PM)

Edit window for all the candidates

29th March 2022 to 7th April 2022

Final edit window to rectify deficient/incorrect images

26th April 2022 to 30th April 2022

Date of issuance of Admit Cards

16th May 2022

Date of Examination

21st May 2022

Declaration of Result

By 20th June 2022

12 The petitioners and other similarly placed doctors have participated in the counseling process for NEET-PG 2021. They were not barred from registering for NEET-PG 2022. The registration for NEET-PG 2022 for the ensuing year had closed on 25 March 2022. As many as 2,06,541 doctors have registered for the ensuing examination. The submission of the petitioners that a postponement of the examination will cause no prejudice to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is specious. It must be borne in mind is that there is a large number of student - doctors who have registered for the entrance test. Over two lakh students have registered for the ensuing examination and their schedule would be seriously affected if a further postponement is granted under a direction of this Court. Postponement of exams results in chaos and uncertainty.

During the onslaught of the Covid waves, postponements may have been granted by the administering authorities since we were confronted with an unprecedented human crisis. This should not become the norm. Doing so will disturb the sanctity of medical education. As the country gets back on the rails after the dislocation which was caused due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is necessary that the decision which has been taken by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of adhering to the time schedule must be accepted.

An important consideration which has weighed in the decision not to postpone the NEET-PG 2022 examination is that any delay in conducting the examination will lead to a fewer number of resident doctors in hospitals. Currently, only two batches of resident doctors are available because of the delay in holding the NEET-PG examination, resulting in serious deficiency in the required strength of doctors in hospitals. This impacts patient care and results in back-breaking loads of work for the existing doctors. Their quality of life, dignity and wellbeing are also of concern.

13 In this backdrop, while the request which has been made by the petitioners for a further postponement of the NEET-PG examination may seem innocuous from their perspective, it cannot be entertained for the reason that this would seriously impact the availability of patient care and qualified post-graduate doctors. It is likely to have a cascading effect on patient care and on the careers of those doctors who have already registered in large numbers for the ensuing examination.

14 The concern of the petitioners who have participated in the counselling process for NEET-PG 2021-22 and will now have to immediately undertake the exam for NEET-PG 2022-23 is understandable. However, these matters essentially pertain to the policy domain. Unless the Court is satisfied that the decision which has been taken by the authorities is without application of mind to relevant circumstances or was manifestly arbitrary, there would no reason for the Court to interfere. Postponement of any examination is replete with serious consequences.

While one body of the students may be interested in seeking a postponement, there will be a large number of other students who have registered for the examination. Above all, the needs of patient care and treatment must be paramount in the clash of rival interests between those doctors who have registered for the ensuing examination and those who have not registered. Balancing of priorities in administration is a difficult task. The task is entrusted to the executive and not to courts. Hence, in our considered view, the reliefs which have been sought in these proceedings cannot be granted.

15 The petition shall accordingly stand dismissed.

............................................................J. [Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud]

............................................................J. [Surya Kant]

New Delhi;

May 13, 2022

1 "NBE"

2 2022 SCS Online SC 492

3 "NMC"

4 Writ Petition (Civil) No 76 of 2015 dated 18.01.2016

5 "NMC"

Item No.17

Dr. R. Dinesh Kumar Reddy & Ors. Vs. Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) & Ors.

[Writ Petition (Civil) No. 341/2022]

[With IA No. 70126/2022-STAY APPLICATION]

Date: 13-05-2022

This petition was called on for hearing today.

CORAM:
HON'BLE DR. JUSTICE D.Y. CHANDRACHUD
HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE SURYA KANT

For Petitioner(s)
Mr. Rakesh Khanna, Sr. Adv.
Mr. Anand Grover, Sr. Adv.
Mr. P. Wilson, Sr. Adv.
Mr. Ashutosh Dubey, AOR

For Respondent(s)
Ms. Aishwarya Bhati, ASG
Ms. Ruchi Kohli, Adv.

UPON hearing the counsel the Court made the following

ORDER

1 The petition is dismissed in terms of the signed reportable judgment.

2 Pending application, if any, stands disposed of.

(CHETAN KUMAR)
A.R.-cum-P.S.

(SAROJ KUMARI GAUR)
Court Master

(Signed reportable judgment is placed on the file)


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