NEET| “Behind abstract number of ‘15 lakh students’ lie human lives”; SC asks NTA to rectify injustice caused to a “one-off” PwBD student

Supreme Court: In a case where a person suffering from Dysgraphia was denied compensatory time while appearing for National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud* and AS Bopanna, JJ has directed the National Testing Agency to the steps that can be taken to rectify the injustice within a period of one week. It said that NTA cannot hide behind the argument that ‘sixteen lakh students appeared for the NEET and hence injustice to a “one-off” student cannot be remedied’.

APPELLANT’S CASE

The appellant suffers from Dysgraphia, which is a specified disability listed in Entry 2(a) of the Schedule to the Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2016. She has been diagnosed with a 40 per cent permanent disability, falling within the statutory definition of a ‘person with benchmark disability’ under Section 2(r) of the RPwD Act 2016. As a person with disability, she is entitled to reasonable accommodation and certain relaxations. Among them is the benefit of “inclusive education” by a suitable modification to the examination system, as mandated by Section 17(i) of the RPwD Act, 2016. The guidelines for conducting “Written Examination for Persons with Benchmark Disabilities”, 2018 govern the examinations of all students covered by the RPwD Act 2016. They are to be followed by all examining authorities and educational institutions conducting regular or competitive examinations.

The appellant, who appeared for NEET, averred that the designated centre was ignorant of the grant of special facilities that had to be provided to PwD candidates and that towards the end of the scheduled duration of three hours, her answer sheet was “forcibly” collected together with the category of regular students appearing for the examination depriving her of compensatory time.

On 23 September 2021, the appellant moved a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution before the Bombay High Court, seeking a direction to NTA to hold a fresh examination for her while accommodating her with all relaxations and benefits to which she was entitled under the rules and regulations.

NATIONAL TESTING AGENCY’S CASE

The appellant has secured an All India Rank of 1721 out of 2684 candidates qualified in the PwD category. In relation to the State of Maharashtra, the appellant has secured rank 249 out of 390 candidates in the PwD category.

Approximately 15.4 lakh candidates appeared at the NEET (UG) 2021 on 12 September 2021 for which the result was declared on 1 November 2021 and the All India Rank was forwarded on November 2021 to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India to conduct counselling for admission. It was, hence, submitted that alteration of the result at this stage would prejudicially affect other candidates who are ranked above the appellant. It was argued that, sixteen lakh students appeared for the NEET and hence injustice to a “one-off” student cannot be remedied.

ANALYSIS

Not pleased with the submission of NTA, the Court said that it must remember that all authority under the law is subject to responsibility, and above all, to a sense of accountability.

“Behind the abstract number of ‘15 lakh students’ lie human lives that can be altered due to the inadvertent, yet significant errors of NTA.”

The Court said that as an examining body, NTA was bound to scrupulously enforce the Guidelines for Written Examinations dated 29 August 2018 which provides for specific relaxations.

The Court stated that since the appellant has suffered injustice by a wrongful denial of these relaxations, a lack of remedy by would cause irretrievable injustice to the life of the student. The RwPD Act 2016 prescribing beneficial provisions for persons with specified disabilities would have no meaning unless it is scrupulously enforced.

Holding that NTA cannot be allowed to simply get away when confronted with the situation in hand whereby injustice has been caused to a student by standing behind the situation of a large competitive examination, the Court said,

“Individual injustices originating in a wrongful denial of rights and entitlements prescribed under the law cannot be sent into oblivion on the ground that these are a necessary consequence of a competitive examination.”

RELIEF AND DIRECTIONS

  • The relief sought by the appellant for holding a re-examination for the NEET (UG) is denied;
  • The appellant was wrongfully deprived of compensatory time of one hour while appearing for the NEET without any fault of her own, despite her entitlements as a PwD and a PwBD. Accordingly, NTA is directed to consider what steps could be taken to rectify the injustice within a period of one week. Further, it shall take necessary consequential measures under intimation to the DGHS;
  • In the future, NTA shall ensure that provisions which are made at the NEET in terms of the rights and entitlements available under the RPwD Act 2016 are clarified in the NEET Bulletin by removing ambiguity;
  • Facilities which are provided by the law to PwD shall not be constricted by reading in the higher threshold prescribed for PwBD;
  • For the purpose of availing of the reservation under Section 32 of the RPwD Act 2016 or an upper age relaxation as contemplated in the provisions, the concept of benchmark disability continues to apply; and
  • The persons working for NTA and exam centres should be sensitised and trained, on a regular basis, to deal with requirements of reasonable accommodation raised by PwDs.

[Avni Prakash v. National Testing Agency, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1112, decided on 23.11.2021]


Counsels:

For appellant: Advocate Rushabh Vidyarthi,

For NTA: Advocate Rupesh Kumar


*Judgment by: Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud

Know Thy Judge| Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud

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