Students with ‘low vision’ who qualified NEET eligible for MBBS: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of India has opened the doors for low vision students to pursue the MBBS course, upholding the rights of a petitioner who qualified NEET to be admitted under the provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

In a significant order, the Supreme Court has allowed a person suffering from ‘low vision’, a disability in which the eyesight cannot be corrected or improved, to pursue the MBBS course and treat patients. The top court allowed a student to pursue MBBS on the ground that he has cleared the 2018 National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET-UG) in the category of Persons with Disability.

Recently, Purswani Ashutosh filed a Writ Petition heard by a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Indira Banerjee. He is a medical aspirant from Ahmedabad who had qualified the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) 2018.

Through the Persons with Disabilities (PwD) category reservation, his rank was 419, making him eligible for admissions through the NEET counseling process. However, the Medical Council of India (MCI) had refused to provide the candidate reservation under the physically disabled category, leading him to approach the Supreme Court “under Article 32 of the Constitution of India complaining of discrimination and arbitrariness”.

The court was challenged on two grounds

1. one being whether the student is eligible to pursue the medical course and
2. if he is, then whether he can claim reservation as per the regulations are given in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

The bench’s final ruling

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Indira Banerjee held that the petitioner “cannot be denied admission to the MBBS course if he qualifies as per his merit in the category of Persons with Disability… In the event, the petitioner is found to be entitled to admission, he shall be given admission in the current academic year 2018-19”.

The court said the Medical Education Regulations framed under Section 33 of the Medical Council Act, 1956, which dealt with disability, have statutory force and are binding on the MCI.

“The Committee having opined that the petitioner suffers from a benchmark disability, its view with regard to the suitability of the petitioner for the MBBS course cannot override the Medical Education Regulations,” the court ordered.

What expert consultation resulted in

The court sought an opinion from a team of experts of three senior members of the ophthalmic department. The experts opined that the visual disability of the petitioner was within the benchmark of the Disabilities Act, but said he was not suitably fit to undertake the MBBS course as per the MCI requirements. They, however, did not disclose the reasons for their opinion that the petitioner was not fit to pursue MBBS.

According to the Rights of Person with Disabilities Act, 2016

As per provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, a ‘person with benchmark disability’ means “a person with not less than 40 per cent of a specified disability where specified disability has not been defined in measurable terms and includes a person with disability where specified disability has been defined in measurable terms, as certified by the certifying authority”.

The debate further

Supreme Court:

The court importantly said that the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, read with the Medical Education Regulations clearly provides for reservation of seats in the MBBS course for persons like the petitioner with specified benchmark disability of low vision.

Medical Council:

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for MCI, contended that the disability act would not apply to admission to a medical college for the MBBS course.

He said the provisions of the act is not attracted in case of MCI since it only provides for reservation to higher educational institutions and not too technical institutions imparting technical education.

Supreme Court:

The court said these arguments appeared fallacious as the higher educational institution was a generic term which would include institutions imparting all kinds of higher education, including technical education.

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