The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday pulled up the Union government, National Board of Examinations (NBE) and National Medical Commission (NMC) for making the last-minute change in the examination pattern of post-graduate National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test-Super Specialty (NEET-SS) 2021.
The bench of justice DY Chandrachud and justice BV Nagarathna shot a volley of questions at NBE's counsel in connection with the notification which was issued in the middle of ongoing preparations by the students.
It says, "Why has the notice been issued? Students start preparing for super speciality courses months and months in advance. What is the need to change before the exam? Why can you not proceed with the changes from the following year?"
"Doctors cannot be left at the mercy of insensitive bureaucrats," the bench says, telling NBE and NMC to consult with the ministry of health to resolve the matter.
Unhappy with NBE counsel's response, the bench shot back, "Don't treat these young doctors as footballs in the game of power. Hold the meeting and put your house on order."
The bench told NMC's counsel that it was dealing with the lives of doctors and added that notice was issued initially and then the pattern was changed.
NBE's counsel submitted changes that were in contemplation for some time and they were enforced after obtaining necessary approvals and sought to file a reply in the matter.
Justice Chandrachud says, "This is so important for their career..cannot introduce changes last minute."
The bench warned that it would issue 'strictures' if authorities fail to find a solution after the meeting. "Please be open to strictures of the Supreme Court if we do not agree with you," it says.
Scheduling the matter for further hearing next week, the bench further added that the authorities should sensitively deal with young doctors. "You cannot deal with their lives like this," it said.
The apex court was hearing a plea by Prateek Rastogi and 40 qualified post-graduate doctors, who challenged the abrupt last-minute changes contending that it was done to favour general medicine candidates.
Last week, the bench of justice Chandrachud and justice Nagarathna issued notice to the NBE, the National Medical Commission and the Union government while scheduling the matter for further hearing on Monday.
During the previous hearing, senior counsel Shyam Divan, representing the doctors, contended before the bench that notification for the examination, scheduled to be held on 13th and 14th November this year, was issued on 23 July 2021. However, on 31st August, another notification was issued changing the exam syllabus, putting the candidates at a significant disadvantage due to the scarcity of time for preparations.
It was argued that as per the prevailing pattern, from 2018 to 2020, 60% marks were allotted from the questions in the super specialty, while 40% were distributed for questions from feeder courses.
However, it was claimed that as per the proposed pattern, the entirety of questions for the critical care super specialty would be drawn from general medicine, which would leave candidates from other disciplines in a tight spot.
"There was no hint that there is going to be any change in pattern," Mr Divan, the senior counsel, contended.
The plea, filed through advocate Javedur Rahman, contended that aspirants have all along been preparing for the pattern that has been in place for the past three years. The plea further added that on earlier occasions, when changes in the pattern or scheme were proposed to be made, the changed pattern/scheme was made public almost six months before the exam.
After hearing the arguments in the matter, the bench had noted, "It is stated that new pattern will have 100% questions from area of general medicine which would be advantageous for the students who are in general medicine."