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The Vision for Cure – Blind Persons Can Join Medicine Says Supreme Court of India

Posted in Case Review, and Disability Support

In a recent judgment, the Supreme Court of India held that a person with blindness cannot be rejected admission to the Bachelors Program in Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) because of his low vision. PURSWANI ASHUTOSH, an aspiring medical doctor, approached the Supreme Court after he was denied admission by the Medical Council of India based on his visual disability, which exceeded forty percent, and therefore, was a bench mark disability under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. As per the Act, five percent of seats in all higher educational institutions must be allotted for persons with benchmark disabilities. After he gave the medical entrace test, NEET, PURSWANI ASHUTOSH was denied admission by the Medical Council of India, and he approached the Supreme Court alleging violation of his fundamental rights because of the Medical Council’s discriminatory and arbitrary action.

After reviewing the facts, the Supreme Court held that PURSWANI ASHUTOSH must not be denied admission on the ground of disability if he satisfies other parameters. It stated that higher educational institutions that are required to give reservation to persons with blindness include medical colleges, and rejected the plea that persons with blindness are not eligible for the course. The Court pointed out that the Medical Council Regulations and the Disability Act mandate reservation for persons with disabilities, which cannot be denied.

The Government’s arguments in the case and attempts to stop persons with blindness from pursuing medical courses reflects the archaic and biased psychological disposition of the Government and its officials. While the whole world is moving towards accommodations and facilitation of equal participation of persons with disabilities in all fields, Indian Government seems to be stuck with the traditional, discriminatory approach. Instead of making life difficult for persons with disabilities by placing hurdles based on what it believes they cannot do, the Government must open its mind to leading the way in facilitating equal participation of persons with disabilities in all walks of life.

Hopefully, another admission to another college will not require another fight.
Case Citation

PURSWANI ASHUTOSH (MINOR) THROUGH DR. KAMLESH VIRUMAL PURSWANI PETITIONER(S)
V.
UNION OF INDIA & ORS. RESPONDENT(S) .

Date : 24-08-2018

Decided by Supreme Court of India.

Writ Petition No. 669/2018.

Relevant Portions of the Judgment

“The petitioner who suffers from a specified disability “low vision” appeared in the NEET (UG) Examination for the 2018-19 Session as a candidate of the physically handicapped category with Registration No. 41108572 and Roll No. 502902144, securing All India Rank 468982 – Category Rank 205186. He ranked 419 in the physically handicapped category.

Aggrieved by the refusal and/or failure of the concerned respondents to give the petitioner the benefit of reservation for the physically disabled, the petitioner approached this Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India complaining of discrimination and arbitrariness.

By an order dated 15th June, 2018, the Vacation Bench of this Court directed that notice be issued to the respondents. In the meanwhile, the petitioner was directed to present himself before the Medical Board of B.J. Medical College, Ahmedabad for medical examination and appropriate medical certification with regard to his claim of sufferings from low vision.

Diverse orders were passed by this Court from time to time. By an order dated 12th July, 2018, this Court noted the submission of the MCI that an Expert Committee formed by MCI had opined that persons with visual impairment of 40 per cent or more could not be admitted to the undergraduate medical course, i.e. the MBBS course. The said request was pending consideration of the Central Government. This Court, however, found that there were inconsistencies in the report, and accordingly called for expert opinion from a team of Experts consisting inter alia of three senior members of the Ophthalmic Department on the following aspects:
“(i)The extent of the disability, with percentage if any. If yes, whether it is within the benchmark of the Disabilities Act.
(ii)Whether the petitioner with the kind of disability, if any he is suffering is fit to undertake the MBBS course.”

By Memo No. F.5-3/RPC/MB-502/2018 dated 16th July, 2018, the Committee answered the first question in the affirmative, in favour of the petitioner, but the second question in the negative and against the petitioner. The Committee of the Experts opined that the visual disability of the petitioner was within the benchmark of the Disabilities Act.

The petitioner was, however, not suitably fit to undertake the MBBS course as per the MCI requirements/guidelines. The memo did not disclose the exact reasons for forming the opinion that the petitioner was not fit for the MBBS course.

Pursuant to the directions of this Court, the petitioner filed a counter affidavit objecting to the said report. As the recommendations of the Committee were awaiting consideration of the Central Government, this Court by an order dated 10th August, 2018 in effect gave liberty to the stakeholders for disabled categories, including the petitioner to submit a representation to the Central Government and directed the Central Government to take an expeditious decision so that the persons with disabilities did not suffer due to lapse of time.

The Medical Education Regulations framed under Section 33 of the Medical Council Act, 1956 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 2016 Act, in particular Section 32 thereof, 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.

Mr. Vikas Singh, learned senior Advocate appearing on behalf of the MCI, strenuously contended that Section 32 of the 2016 Act would not apply to admission to a medical college for the MBBS course. It is, however, not disputed that the Medical Education Regulations are valid, subsisting, in force and binding on the MCI. The validity of the said regulations has not been questioned.

The contention of Mr. Singh that Section 32 is not attracted since it only provides for reservation to higher educational institutions and not to technical institutions imparting technical education, appears to be fallacious since higher educational institution is a generic term which would include institutions imparting all kinds of higher education, including technical education, whereas technical institution is a specific term for those institutions which only impart technical education.

Be that as it may, as mentioned hereinabove, it is not necessary for this Court to adjudicate the question of whether Section 32 of the 2016 Act is attracted or not, in view of the admission that the Medical Education Regulations which incorporate the provisions of the 2016 Act in relation to reservation to higher educational institutions, have statutory force and are binding on the MCI. The regulations have not yet been amended by the MCI in the light of the recommendations made by its Committee and the decision taken at the Secretariat level. No amendment in the 2016 Act or in the regulations framed by the MCI have been made so far.

For the reasons discussed above, this Court holds 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.”

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