The Delhi High Court has upheld the validity of the Medical Council of India’s (MCI) mandate making the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) qualification a prerequisite to study medicine from a foreign university, and subsequently, to practice as a doctor/surgeon in India.

The pronouncement was made by a Division Bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and AK Chawla in a batch of writ petitions challenging the February 2018 amendments to the Foreign Medical Institution Regulations, 2002 and Screening Test Regulations, 2002 as being arbitrary and unfair.

As per the pre-amendment Regulations, a candidate desirous of pursuing a medical course abroad had to fulfil the basic educational qualifications for the course and obtain an “eligibility certificate” from Medical Council of India (MCI). After completing the course, the candidate had to qualify a screening test in India, if she wished to practice as a doctor or surgeon here.

After amending the two Regulations, MCI through a public notice dated March 8, 2018, declared NEET qualification as a pre-requisite for grant of an eligibility certificate to such candidates. The MCI also consequentially mandated that in addition to possessing the primary medical qualification, the student should also possess the eligibility certificate showing that she had passed NEET to be eligible to practice in India.

The High Court refused to declare the amendment to the Regulations as arbitrary and unfair. It rejected the petitioner’s argument that the amendment had no nexus with the primary object of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956.

It held that MCI’s amended regulations have a direct nexus with “the quality of professionals” who wish to practice the medical profession and seek enrollment in the state register.

It took notice of the fact that at times, admissions to foreign universities were not always based on the merit, aptitude or the proficiency of the candidates, but rather upon the other considerations – primarily and predominantly monetary ones.

It iterated that the “object and overarching purpose” of the Act is “to ensure not only quality medical education but also that those who graduate from medical, dental and other allied fields in universities possess a basic level of proficiency and measure up-to certain standards”.

After the amendment, MCI passed two exemption notices, dated April 23, 2018 and September 14, 2018, stating that candidates who had not appeared in NEET on the ground that they were either not aware of the amendment or could not fill the NEET form due to short notice would be issued eligibility certificates as a one-time exception.

In some relief to the petitioners, the High Court granted similar exemptions to them as well as all other candidates who wished to study medicine abroad but could not qualify NEET 2018.

It directed the MCI to issue eligibility certificates to all such candidates as a one-time measure. It also directed MCI to ensure relief in terms of Screening Regulations as well to such candidates upon their return to India after the completion of their course.

The Court observed that the classification sought to be made between those who did not appear, and those who appeared but did not qualify, unfairly discriminated against the ones who “at least abided by the rules and regulations”.

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 Bench further stated,

“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. 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. 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.”

The Court thus granted a one-time relief to the petitioners as well as all other such students who had appeared for NEET but did not qualify it, but refused to assail the amended Regulations.

Petitioner Shahul Hameed KS was represented by Senior Advocate Prashanto Sen, with Advocates Viraj Kadam and Kaustubh Singh.

Another petitioner, Parul Bhatnagar, was represented by Advocate Ashok Agarwal. The third petitioner, Amritha Sankar, was represented by Advocate Viraj Kadam.

MCI was represented by Senior AdvocateVikas Singh, with Advocates T Singhdev, Amandeep Kaur, Puja Sarkar, Michelle Biathansangi Das, Tarun Verma and Abhijit Chakravarty.

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