New Delhi: Through a recent decision the Delhi HC has ruled in the favour of Medical council of India that came up with the amendments in the MCI regulations to make NEET mandatory for medical courses abroad. Having said that the Court directed the MCI’s “one-time exemption” to include those MBBS candidates, who appeared and yet did not qualify the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) 2018 eligible to enrol in an overseas medical college this year. The council was directed to issue eligibility certificates to such candidate by the court
This directive came in view of the petitions challenging the validity of amendments to the Foreign Medical Institution Regulations, 2002 and the Screening Test Regulations, 2002 made by the Medical Council of India (MCI).
The petitioners complained that the impugned amendments are arbitrary and unreasonable while laying the facts and arguments mentioned below:
- The amendments introduced by MCI required candidates to pass the NEET as a precondition for studying abroad; the screening test regulations too were consequentially amended to prescribe that in addition to possessing the primary medical qualification, the student also had to possess the eligibility certificate showing that she or he had qualified in NEET.
- MCI issued the impugned notification dated 1 March 2018, making an amendment to the screening test regulations and also eligibility requirement for taking admission in an undergraduate medical course in a foreign medical institution.
- On 8 March 2018, the MCI issued a public notice in the newspaper informing the public at large, more particularly, students seeking admission for a medical course in foreign universities. This publication was done one day before the last date of registration for NEET, i.e., 9 March 2018. Many students were taken by surprise and many students were not even aware of such notification and such change in procedure.
- Foreign medical universities and medical colleges do not come under the supervision of MCI and consequently, it cannot formulate rules for admission to such foreign medical universities and the requirement of students wishing to study abroad also having to qualify in NEET is discriminatory because it does not sub-serve the object of ensuring quality medical education.
- Each foreign medical universities and colleges have their own entrance test and their own set pattern of admission and there is no requirement of NEET as an eligibility criterion or a condition precedent for applying to foreign medical universities and colleges.
The petitioners challenged two exemption circulars by the Medical Council of India:
- Exempting candidates who have already proceeded abroad from taking NEET
- Exempting candidates who did not appear in the NEET due to the amendment to the regulation at the last moment.
It was further argued by the counsel for the petitioners that the MCI granted exemption from the operation of the impugned regulations to two categories. He urged that both these treated students belonging to the same class, differently in as much as those who attempted but could not clear the NEET (because of short notice) are treated unfavourably, whereas those who did not appear or went away, before a particular date, were unfairly exempted.
It was pointed out that during the pendency of these writ petitions, on 14th September 2018, another notice clarifying that NEET was not necessary to others as well (but applied to the petitioners and all those who appeared but could not pass in the NEET exam) was issued.
Pointing out the dilemma faced by the petitioners, it was argued that the last-minute insistence on clearing the NEET by those who never wished to secure admission in Indian universities in any medical course, placed the petitioners and other candidates at a great disadvantage, because they did not have the benefit of sufficient time to prepare for the test.
One of the petitioners secured admission to the foreign university on 19th January 2018, the petitioner argued that her case would fall under clarification issued by MCI dated 23rd April 2018 whereby the petitioner is entitled to one-time exemption since the petitioner had secured admission on 19th January 2018, much before the 1st March 2018 amendment. Therefore, the amendment cannot be made applicable to the petitioner.
The respondents i.e. Medical Council of India pointed out that the course begins after 31st May 2018 and she, therefore, had to clear NEET, which she could not pass.
The counsel for the MCI presented the following arguments before the High Court Bench:
- Large numbers of candidates, who obtain admission in foreign medical institutes, find it extremely arduous to even complete the primary medical course and thereafter are unable to qualify the Screening Test for the purpose of obtaining a registration to practice medicine in the country. This is directly linked to the aptitude as well as academic competence/capability of the candidates who are seeking to obtain admission in foreign medical institutes.
- Various foreign medical institutes, grant admissions on the basis of transactions with the agents and are neither alive nor concerned about the future of the candidates, in as much as, if such candidates after completing the primary medical qualifications are unable to qualify the screening test, it is of no relevance to the foreign medical institutes.
- In Sanjeev Gupta & Ors v Union of India 2005 (1) SCC 45, the Supreme Court had upheld the validity of the screening test regulations as well as the general scheme providing for the eligibility certificate.
- There is nothing arbitrary or discriminatory in the regulations, which were formulated in the interests of the general public introducing standards for granting eligibility certificates to those wishing to study abroad, in medicine.
The MCI also presented its clarification on the two exemption circulars stating,
“The first was issued because the amended regulations stated that they would apply to those who had gone abroad or were to do so after 31 May 2018. This meant that there was a need for clarification in respect of those who reported for pre-medical language courses, which had commenced earlier; the clarification also stated that those joining the course before 31 May 2018 did not have to appear and qualify in NEET.
Likewise, the second clarification of 14-09-2018 applied to “Indian Citizens who had not at all registered for NEET 2018 and desired to take admission in MBBS or equivalent medical course in a medical university outside the country in the present academic year 2018-19”.
After hearing the arguments laid by both, the petitioners and the Medical Council of India, the court noted,
“The challenge in these proceedings to the validity of the amendments to the eligibility and screening test regulations, as stated earlier, is twofold:
One, that it is arbitrary and has no nexus with the primary object of regulating medical education in India and
Two, that arguendo even if it is valid, their abrupt introduction, leaving students with little time to prepare is unreasonable.”
The bench comprising honourable Justices S Ravindra Bhat and AK Chawla opined that the MCI’s amended regulations, mandating that those desirous of studying abroad, had to appear and qualify in NEET has direct nexus with the quality of professionals who – or many of who would – wish to practise the medical profession and seek enrolment in the State register, for that purpose. It is now essential that every candidate wishing to secure admission to any medical college in India, has to appear and clear the NEET. The bench added,
“Though at the first blush, those wishing to study abroad are a separate class, nevertheless, after the amendment of 2001 (to the IMC Act) and the introduction of Section 13 (4B), every Indian citizen wishing to study abroad has to secure an eligibility certificate from the Central Government. Such a requirement is neither unreasonable nor arbitrary.”
In its observation, the bench also relied on various judgments in earlier cases and stated,
“The primary decision of an academic regulatory authority, if made within bounds of statute with the object of achieving academic or professional excellence, cannot in the absence of palpable or manifest arbitrariness, be interfered with by courts in judicial review. Consequently, the challenge on the ground of arbitrariness and unreasonableness fails.”
“In court’s opinion, the classification sought to be made between those who did not appear and those who appeared, but did not qualify, is not justified in the circumstances. Once the regulations required that candidates who were to proceed abroad after 31st May, 2018 had to qualify in NEET, to secure an eligibility certificate (i.e. after the first clarification, having regard to the terms of the eligibility regulations) a further division of those who did not appear (on the assumption that all of them could not appear because they were unaware) and those who appeared, but could not clear in the examination, was not justified.”
“The second exemption (dated 14th September, 2018) was premised on the short notice given to candidates, at least partly. It is undeniable that when the public notice – after the amendment was issued, i.e. on 8th March, 2018, the students had to scramble to fill the forms for NEET; the last date was 9th March, 2018. Having done so, they had little time left to prepare. In these circumstances, as between those who chose not to appear in NEET and those who did (but could not qualify) the latter category did abide by the regulations.”
In view of the above observations, the court noted the petitioners’ impasse, “That has now become a millstone around their neck; their inability to qualify in the NEET (because of the shortage of time available) resulted in their inability to clear the test. On the other hand, all those who stood outside the process (regardless of whether they were aware or not aware) have benefitted from their failure and omission to adhere to the law,” and stated,
“This, in the opinion of the court, has resulted in unfairness upon the petitioners and those like them who at least abided by the rules and regulations. In these peculiar circumstances, the denial of the one-time exemption to those who could not qualify, but appeared in NEET, has resulted in unfairness. Both categories (those who appeared but failed to qualify and those who did not appear) fall in the same class, i.e. candidates who did not qualify in NEET after 31st May, 2018. To grant eligibility certificate (without insisting on NEET results) only to those who did not attempt the test, therefore, was unfair.”
In its conclusion, the Delhi HC directed the MCI to provide eligibility certificates to the petitioners and upheld the MCI’s decision of one-time exemption to the candidates applying at foreign medical institutions this year. The bench concluded,
“The petitioners are entitled to the same treatment as was given to those who did not appear in NEET; as a one-time measure, the respondents are directed to ensure that eligibility certificates are issued to all students who appeared in NEET (including the petitioners) but did not qualify the test. The MCI is also directed to ensure that consequential order and relief is given in the screening test regulations to those categories of students, entitled to the benefit of the present judgment; such consequential orders shall also be issued in respect of those covered by the previous two exemption notices (dated 23rd April, 2018 and 14th September, 2018). The eligibility certificates shall be made available to such students, within one week from today, subject to such students complying with the formalities spelt out in the second notice (dated 14th September, 2018).”
Attached is the judgment below: