In a relief to thousands of young doctors pursuing higher specialisation courses, the Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that in the interest of students, it has decided to implement changes in the pattern of the NEET-Super Speciality (NEET-SS) examination from the academic year 2022-23.
The government indicated that it may defer the examination for the academic year 2021-22 by a couple of months as they have to start the process all over again.
The top court was hearing a batch of pleas of 41 post-graduate doctors and others who had challenged the last-minute changes made to the syllabus after the notification was issued on July 23 for the test to be held on November 13 and 14.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Vikram Nath, and BV Nagarathna recorded the submission of Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati and disposed of a batch of pleas of students who have challenged the Centre's decision to implement changes in the examination pattern of NEET-Super Speciality from this year.
Bhati said, "In the interest of the students, who have prepared in line with the old scheme, the government in consultation with the two expert bodies (National Medical Commission (NMC) and National Board of Examination (NBE)) has decided that this revised scheme of NEET-SS will be implemented from 2022".
She said that this will mean that the current NEET-SS-2021 will be held in accordance with the norms that were there in the NEET-SS-2020.
The bench recording the submissions said, "The Union of India states that a decision has been taken by it in consultation with the NMC and the NBE to the effect that having regard to the interest of the body of students, who would have commenced preparations for the ensuing NEET-SS-2021 examination before the change in the pattern was notified, the modified pattern shall be given effect to only from the academic year 2022-23".
During the brief hearing, Bhati said that she wanted to allay the apprehension which the court has expressed on Tuesday about an attempt being made to fill private medical college seats.
The bench told Bhati to leave the issue at that.
Bhati said that she just wants to inform the court that out of 805 seats that remained vacant last year 561 were private medical college seats and 241 were government medical college seats.
She, however, said that about the observation made by the court and in the interest of the students, the process of change of pattern should have been done with adequate notice to the students.
She indicated that the authorities may need a couple of months more to hold the examination which was scheduled for November 12-13 as the now whole process needs to be changed.
The bench said that the government has acted in a very fair manner and it is up to the authorities as to when to hold the examination but certainly this year.
The top court, however, said that it is not necessary for this court to adjudicate upon the validity of the decision to implement the modified pattern from the academic year 2022-23, and that issue is kept open.
On Tuesday, the top court had given one last chance to the Centre to put its "house in order" and take a call on reversing the changes made to the NEET-Super Speciality examination 2021.
An anguished top court had said that the medical profession and education have become a business, and now, the regulation of medical education has also gone that way which is the nation's tragedy.
The apex court was not satisfied with the justification given by the Centre, NBE, and the NMC for making the last-minute changes after the notification for the examination was issued in July.
The Centre has said that the court should not get the impression that the last-minute change in the syllabus was done to fill vacant seats in private colleges and they will try to persuade the court to dispel this notion.
"We are getting a strong impression that the medical profession has become a business, medical education has become a business and the regulation of medical education has also become a business. That's the tragedy of the nation," the bench had said.
The top court had said that before 2018, 100 per cent of questions came from the feeder courses; from 2018 to 2020 there was major modification under which 60 per cent marks were from super specialisation and 40 per cent from the feeder super specialisation courses.
"Now what is sought to be done is one hundred per cent questions will be from primary feeder specialty which is general medicines," it had said.
On September 27, the top court had said, "Don't treat young doctors as football in the game of power," and warned the Centre that it may pass strictures if it is not satisfied with justification for last-minute changes to the syllabus.
A batch of pleas filed by young doctors said that as per the prevailing pattern of examination, 60 per cent of marks are given on questions from super-specialty courses while 40 per cent of the marks are given from other courses.
As per the notification issued on August 31 for modifying the pattern of examination, 100 per cent marks will be now given on questions from general medicines.
The young doctors have said in their plea that they have been preparing for the examination as per the earlier pattern which has been in existence for the last three years and with the sudden change in the pattern they will be in a disadvantageous position.