Good news for medicos as NBE tells Supreme Court that new pattern will be deferred to 2022

The bench had earlier lamented the fact that medical education in the country was becoming a business and this has led the NBE to change their mind
Pic: Edexlive
Pic: Edexlive

Good news for those medicos appearing for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test Super Speciality (NEET SS) exams 2021 — the pattern will remain the same as it has been. The National Board of Examinations (NBE) has reversed its decision to implement major changes in the question paper pattern for NEET SS 2021 from the current academic year — after the Supreme Court lambasted it for introducing last-minute changes just to fill vacant medical college seats.

As a result, the three-judge bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Vikram Nath and BV Nagarathna disposed of the case. Passing the order, the bench said, "Since the grievance sought to be raised has been fulfilled, in circumstances, the petitions are disposed of."

The hearing, which was wrapped up on October 6, was for a petition filed by 41 PG-qualified doctors, who claimed that the changes were discriminatory towards super speciality courses because the entire paper was being based on General Medicine. Earlier, 60 per cent of the questions were set from the SS courses, and 40 per cent weightage was given to general medicine. And while Senior Advocate Maninder Singh and Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, who appeared for the NBE, argued that this would provide "comparative ease and flexibility" for the students, the SC took a distinctly different view of the matter. 

Pic: Edexlive

Advocate Prashant Bhushan who had appeared on behalf of another petitioner in the same case urged the court to take a look at the issue of discrimination against other super speciality courses that the changes imposed, adding that the NBE is "essentially shutting out other specialities. The bench, after passing the order had said that since the Union of Inda has decided to revert to the old pattern for the exam to be held in November, the court doesn't find it necessary to decide on the validity of the pattern for the next academic year. "That issue is kept open," said the Apex Court.

The judges said that the decision was taken in haste just to fill up vacant seats in the country. They had also asked the NBE to produce a break-up of these seats between private and government colleges. Bhati submitted to the court on October 6 that from among the vacant seats, 418 were government seats and 516 were from private colleges. On October 5, the court had expressed anguish over the fact that this move gives the impression that medical education and regulation in the country has become a mere business.

On October 4, the NBE had submitted an affidavit to the court, defending its decision of introducing the changes this year, and had also deferred the exam from November 13-14 to January 10-11 in order to give students more time to prepare. However, the judges observed that the exam requires years of preparation, and a couple of months would simply not be enough to catch up with such a significant change in the question paper. The bench remarked, "You announce the changes in August for the exam in November. And when the students come to the court, you change the exams to January. This doesn't augur well for the future of medical education in the country."

The initial dates for the exam were announced on July 23 this year. On August 31, the NBE released a NEET SS notification, and the aspirants discovered that the question paper, which had up until then asked 40 per cent of the questions from General Medicine, and 60 per cent of the questions from a specific stream under the three-year Doctor of Medicine or Master of Chirurgiae courses, was now streamlined to 100 per cent of the questions falling under General Medicine. It is to be noted that the two courses are the most advanced PG courses in surgical science, and unlike general medical PG, or UG, NEET SS is the only recognised qualifying exam for these courses in the country.

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