Divyang Garg (name changed) cleared the NEET despite fighting the odds with his disability. He not only has a permanent disability certificate but also a Unique Disability Identity Card (UDID) – both from SMS Hospital, Jaipur. When he approached the counselling centre in Jaipur, he was asked to appear before the medical board in Delhi to get assessed. The same happened with twins with thalassemia from Haryana, a candidate living with dyslexia from Amritsar and another one with a locomotor disability from Muzaffarnagar. All these candidates were forced to travel to Safdarjung Hospital for reassessment despite having permanent disability certificates.
The information bulletin for the AIPMT/NEET admission to MBBS/BDS states that reservation of seats under Physically Handicapped (PH) Category has been increased from 3% to 5% in All India Quota/Central Universities and includes the 21 Benchmark Disabilities as envisaged under the regulations of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.
However, despite a progressive legislation, the Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) of the Ministry of Health has created hurdles for successful NEET candidates with disabilities. The MCC Guideline mandates that qualified candidates with disabilities having any of the 21 Benchmark Disabilities as per the RPWD Act, 2016 should get themselves examined and certified at one of the undermentioned Disability Assessment Boards, constituted only at the four metro-cities: (i) Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi (ii) All India Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mumbai (iii) IPGMER, Kolkata (iv) Madras Medical College, Chennai.
This is despite a candidate having a permanent disability certificate or UDID. If this was not enough, the FAQ 26 available on MCC website also stress that PH candidates are required to carry treatment papers related to their disability, including the investigation reports at the time of reporting.
Dr Sonali, who recently finished her MD in Pathology says, “I also have the same certificate which I got from Safadarjung at the time of my admission. I came from Madhya Pradesh for this certificate only despite having a valid permanent certificate.”
Dr Roshan Jahan, who lost both legs in a train accident, belongs to a conservative Muslim family which fought legal battles to get him MBBS and MD admission. She too faced the same problem, “I had the AIIPMR Mumbai certificate already but every year, before filling the form for the new sessions, you have to get a new certificate from these four centres. And if one asks, why these four centres only, nobody has an answer.”
I believe this is a direct violation of the new law. Section 19 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules, 2017, mandates that a certificate issued under Rule 18 is to be generally valid for all purposes and makes a person entitled to apply for all government concessions and benefits. Also, as per Section 20 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, the certificate of disability issued even under the repealed Act is valid.
The biggest mistake here is the rejection of the UDID. The Ministry of Social Justice came up with the ambitious UDID card to make it the single document of identification and verification for persons with disability for availing various benefits. The UDID Card is valid at all levels of the hierarchy of implementation – from village to national level. Rajasthan has already issued 2,52,280 UDID, including that of Divyang Garg.
It is wrong to force only candidates with disability to appear before these centres as the same criterion is not imposed on non-disabled candidates from SC/ST/OBC categories to verify their caste certificate at these four centres.
According to the ‘candid observations’ made by Dr Radhika Tandon, ophthalmic expert from AIIMS, “Some checks and measures to safeguard against the problem of malingering or willful attempt on part of person to gain higher percentage or lower percentage to gain reservation or become eligible as applicable, need to be evolved and put in place,” as mentioned on the MCC website.
This ignorance comes from the lack of people with disabilities in such committees. This is exactly the reason why both the MCC and the Medical Council of India (MCI) have no understanding of the concepts of universal design or reasonable accommodation. The result is that despite mandatory under new Disability Act, low vision, specific learning disability, and autism are considered ‘not eligible’ for reservation in MBBS by MCI and MCC.
This is the reason why year after year, cases are filed by students with disabilities against MCI and MCC. The latest one is at Mumbai where a candidate with an intellectual disability who cleared NEET, was turned down by the authorised Center AIIPMR Mumbai on the grounds that they can only examine physical disabilities. Mumbai High Court has now intervened in this matter.