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SC Grants Interim Relief to Students Who Opposed Age Limit for NEET

SC Grants Interim Relief to Students Who Opposed Age Limit for NEET

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has granted interim relief to students who challenged a new clause inserted in the Graduate Medical Education Regulations, which sets an upper age limit for taking medical entrance examinations.

The Medical Council of India (MCI) had placed a cap of 25 years (for the general category) and 30 years (for the reserved category) for candidates taking the National Eligibility and Entrance Test-Under Graduate (NEET-UG) examinations. A group of petitioners opposed the regulation in the Supreme Court.

A number of students had earlier moved the Delhi high court opposing these changes in admission norms. The high court, however, held the MCI norms to be “legal and valid”. It reasoned that there were a limited number of MBBS seats for a large pool of aspirants. Younger students were then at a disadvantage, because older students could try multiple times and would have had more time to prepare.

The petition before the Supreme Court had challenged this explanation. The last date for filing applications for NEET-UG this year is November 30. The court has directed the National Testing Agency to accept applications from candidates above the age of 25. The case will next be heard in February.

‘HC applied wrong test for ascertaining constitutionality’

The petition submitted that the high court applied the wrong test for ascertaining constitutionality, as a law that seeks to differentiate between categories must first be shown to be based on distinguishing characteristics.

The petitioners stated that the MCI had argued that last year, there were over 11 lakh candidates for 61,020 MBBS seats.

Also read: Spate of Favourable Court Orders Ensure PwD Students Get Rightful Place in MBBS

“The MCI has, without conducting any study and without any empirical basis, opined that this is affecting selection of meritorious students as older students can give many tries for the examination. Even if the same is accepted, which it cannot as it is not based on any systematic study or empirical reasoning, the same would, at best, be acceptable logic for limiting the number of tries and not for imposing an upper age-limit,” the appeal reasoned.

‘No age limit for admissions to AIIMS, JIPMER’

Terming the age limit “wholly arbitrary”, the petition also highlighted that admissions procedures in some of the most reputed medical institutions of the country were not governed by MCI regulations. It said that in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER), there is no age limit for appearing in the entrance examination.

Therefore, the petitioners said, it will be patent discrimination if in MBBS courses other than in these institutions, those above 25 years of age will not even be able to compete.

Age bar was scrapped in 2017

The petition also recalled that the age limit was introduced by the MCI for NEET-UG 2017 exam as well, but when it was challenged before the Supreme Court, the Council had decided to scrap it, saying the country was facing a shortage of doctors.

Also read: Data of Hundreds of Thousands of NEET Candidates Leaked Online, Put up for Sale

The students also claimed that after the Supreme Court had ruled against the age limit, despite the fact that there was no change in the chronic shortage of doctors in the country, the MCI again introduced an age bar

`No justification provided by MCI for fixing upper age limit again’

It was also stated that the MCI had justified the lower age limit of 17 for MBBS admissions on the grounds that the course required a certain amount of maturity and understanding. However, it did not provided any reason for imposing the 25 year upper age limit.

They also submitted that there is no upper age limit for enrolment as a medical practitioner in India. Also, there is no age bar for Indian students to study medicine in other countries and then come back to India and work.

`No upper-age limit in developed countries’

 On how developed countries approach the issue, the petition stated that in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and most of the EU, there was no upper-age limit for studying medicine.

Also read: As NEET Undercuts Merit Entry to Medical Colleges, Reserved Category Students Suffer

In the UK, universities run and promote special mature students programme in medicine courses for those who cannot devote substantial time for education because of family responsibilities. “Therefore, there is no rational behind the decision of respondents as to why a candidate above the age of 25 years is not competent to take medicine courses in India,” the petition stated.

`There is no age limit for studying law, engineering’

The petition also asked why an age limit has been imposed for studying medicine only. “There is no upper-age limit for pursuing engineering and law courses in India …… on the basis of the principle that age is not a bar from gaining knowledge and education,” the petition said.

It also questioned the right of the MCI to issue the impugned notification stating that the powers and duties assigned to it under the parent Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 were limited to maintenance of standards of medical education. The plea also claimed that the notification be quashed as it was violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution of India.

`Age limit discriminates against students from poor backgrounds’

Talking to The Wire, one of the petitioners in the case, Sandeepan Chowdhury, said the age bar also discriminates against students coming from poor families. “In the absence of an age restriction, those coming from poor backgrounds and not well-versed in English used to get enough time after completing Class 12 to bring their learning levels at par with the more privileged. The imposition of age bar discriminates against them,” he insisted.

He said SC had earlier also stayed a notification of the Bar Council of India that prescribed a maximum age limit for taking admission to law courses at 20 years (for integrated course) and 30 years (for the three-year course).

`No serious attempts to increase number of medical seats’

Chowdhury said the MCI has not done anything substantial to increase their numbers. To the contrary, 82 medical colleges were denied the permission to renew MBBS seats for the coming 2018-19 academic year by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on the MCI’s recommendation.

Stating that 15 of these colleges were in Uttar Pradesh, he said the number of seats which would not be available next year is approximately 11,800.

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