How a ‘zero year’ has brought resident doctors onto Delhi streets, Health News, ET HealthWorld


How a ‘zero year’ has brought resident doctors onto Delhi streetsNEW DELHI: The National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test for Post Graduate (NEET-PG) 2021 was to be held on January 10, but was finally conducted on September 11. This was meant mainly for those who had completed MBBS in 2020. Meanwhile, another batch of students completed MBBS in 2021. While March 12, 2022 has been announced as the date for NEET-PG 2022, counselling for the earlier year is unlikely to be finished by then. This means NEET-PG 2022 might have to be postponed.

The inordinate delay has led to a zero year and total disruption of training of several batches. For doctors already doing the three-year PG courses, it has meant working for 4-6 months, including during the second wave of Covid-19, without the first-year students to help. Resident doctors in the second and final years had to work with no leaves and extended duty hours. That is what has triggered the protests over the last two months.

But what led to this? About 1.6 lakh applicants appeared for around 32,750 PG seats. Half of the PG seats are surrendered by states for admission through a central pool (All India Quota) in government colleges. Litigation on the 27% quota for OBCs and 10% for EWS from the general category in AIQ seats endlessly delayed counselling, meaning there were no PG admissions in 2021.

The results of the PG exam were out on September 28. The last batch was admitted more than a year ago. Usually, a new batch joins by May. But with no new batch joining, hospitals had to manage with just two-thirds of their usual strength of resident doctors.

While the AIQ was introduced in 1986, reservation for SCs and STs was started only in 2007-08 and there was no OBC quota despite central institutions having it since 2009-10. Several petitions were filed in the Madras High Court in 2020 seeking implementation of the OBC quota on seats contributed by Tamil Nadu to the AIQ. On July 27, 2020, Madras High Court held that there was no legal impediment to the quota, but left implementation to the Centre.

In March 2021, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam filed a contempt petition against the Centre for not implementing the court’s order. On June 20, the court ruled that no medical admissions would be allowed without OBC quota being implemented.

On July 19, the Centre said it had taken “a historic and a landmark decision” to provide 27% reservation for OBCs and 10% for EWS in AIQ seats. This would benefit around 2,500 OBC students and 1,000 EWS students. On the same day, the medical counselling committee (MCC) issued a notification on these quotas.

On September 6, the Supreme Court heard petitions against the 27% quota and issued notices to the Centre and MCC. The petitions challenged the quota on the grounds that the reservation on AIQ had crossed the 50% limit, and that the annual income limit of Rs 8 lakh for EWS was arbitrary. The petitions asked that NEET-PG 2021 proceed without these reservations.

On October 21, the SC bench raised specific questions about the income criteria, including whether it would be arbitrary to provide the same for OBC and EWS categories. The government was asked to explain the income criteria and whether it would like to revise the Rs 8 lakh limit. The court put the counselling for AIQ seats, scheduled to start on October 25, on hold till the matter was resolved.

On October 28, the Centre assured the court that it would not start counselling till the matter was resolved, but said its decision on reservation for EWS and OBC was taken after due deliberation with experts.

Instead of asking for a regular and expedited hearing, the Solicitor General asked for the matter to be taken up after the Diwali vacation (November 1 to 6). The hearing was deferred on the next two dates on November 16 and 23 due to “unavoidable” reasons.

On November 25, the Centre told the SC that it had decided to revisit the annual income criteria for EWS and sought four weeks’ time for a three-member committee to be constituted to determine it. This was despite the court asking if it would like to apply the reservation from next year, since it was already the middle of November. The court’s winter vacation is from December 20 to January 1, 2022. January 6 is the next date of hearing.

Clearly, most of the delay has come from the Centre, though it now pleads that the holdup is because the matter is sub judice. The demand of resident doctors that the matter be heard on an urgent basis, even before a vacation bench if necessary, has fallen on deaf ears.

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