Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Delhi HC clears the way for a disabled doctor to appear in the PG medical counselling

Court: Delhi High Court

Bench: Mr. Justice Sanjeev Narula

Case No.:    W.P.(C) 12653/2022

Case Title:  Laxmi Vs. Union of India & Ors

Date of Order: 14.09.2022

Next Date of Hearing: 22 Nov 2022

Case Brief:

Ms. Laxmi, a disabled MBBS student who was declared ineligible to pursue a course at the postgraduate level has been given the clearance by Delhi High Court to appear in the PG medical counselling.

The petitioner, who completed her MBBS course from Baba Raghav Das Medical College, Gorakhpur has polio in her lower left limb.  But, the Safdarjung Hospital declared her 100% disabled and rejected her to get a clearance certificate. For NEET PG counselling after completion of MBBS, PwD students need a certificate from one of the specific centres.

Laxmi went to the Centre Govt-run Safdarjung Hospital onAugust 24, 2022 to appear for the disability test. She uses an orthotic caliper, owing the polio. However,  the examiners asked her to remove it and walk, which she couldn't do. thus she was declared 100% disabled. As per the existing rule, a PwD candidate with 40-80% disability is allowed for PG courses.

She thus filed a petition in the Delhi High Court. The single bench presided  by Hon'ble justice Sanjeev Narula,  directed AIIMS to constitute a board of experts to assess the disability of the MBBS doctor. A team of three doctors was constituted to examine her who opined as under:

"Candidate Ms. Laxmi was assessed without and with lower limb orthosis. She was found to have improved ambulation and stability with Knee Ankle Foot Orthosis (KAFO) with compensation for shortening in left lower limb. With orthosis the disability becomes less than 80% (Eighty Percent). She would be able to perform the functions expected from a post graduate specialist doctor with use of an appropriate and well fitting orthosis."

Similar ableism was on display in a recent case decided by the Allhabad HC, where a candidate who used tri-cycle was forced to ride a bicycle which was the essential qualification for the post. The candidate had expressed that he could ride a tricycle with equal efficiency as a cycle, however, the albleist Principal did not even consider his candidature. Though no major relief came his way due to a prolonged litigation and lapsed time, the court however, decided that it was clearly a case of violation of human dignity and awarded a compensation of Rs. 5 lakh to the affected petitioner.

In the instant case, since some of the reliefs sought in the petition survived and required consideration, the court isssued notices to respondents with next date of hearing as 22 Nov 2022. The matter was successfully argued by Adv Gaurav Bansal, for the petitioner.

Earlier the Doctors with Disabilities : Agents of Change, a group of Indians Health Professionals with Disabilities shared on its facebook group  on 03 Sep 2022 the detailed timeline of challenges faced by Dr. Laxmi due to #AbleismInMedEd and revelations from the responses to the RTI filed by Dr. Satendra Singh, a doctor with disabilities himself at link here reproduced below: 

"An MBBS lady doctor with 45% disability in the left lower limb according to Govt of India's UDID (and another disability certificate from prestigious KGMU) was declared 100% disabled by Safdarjung Hospital's medical board for NEET PG headed by Dr Suman Badhal (Prof PMR), Dr Ajay Gupta (Prof PMR), Dr Arun Kumar Pandey (Astt Prof, Ortho) and thus crushed her dream to do specialization. There may be some doubt about assigning a percentage between 40-50 or 30-40, but declaring someone 100% disabled with only polio in one leg is unjustified. 

The VMMC & Safdarjung Hospital medical boards have been dubbed "harassment centres" by candidates with disabilities, and there is evidence that this hospital is fond of declaring candidates "100% disabled". It is highly unlikely to get a 100% disability certificate until and unless both limbs are involved.

2020: A candidate from Meerut with a 50% disability because of polio (no braces) was declared 100% by this board & denied admission. Poor person could not file case.

2019: A candidate from Bijnor with same 50% disability because of polio was also declared 100% & rejected. He studied again, cleared NEET UG, went to a different centre & now doing MBBS third year.

2019: A MBBS doc on crutches (50% disability) working as a JR in the PMR Dept of RML Hospital was declared ineligible in NEET PG after declaring > 90% at Safdarjung. He is now doing MD Dermatology in Rajasthan.

2019: Another lady doctor with MBBS was denied admission. "I did everything they asked for, including sitting on the floor and crossing my legs, despite delivering a baby two weeks ago". Dejected, she went to another centre, got admission and finished MD Pediatrics successfully last week and awarded by State Govt.

Let's see the competence of these "experts". Dr Satendra Singh filed an RTI asking what guidelines they follow. My RTI Question No. 7: Kindly provide the details of all the tests done by doctors to assess NEET candidates with locomotor disabilities. Which guidelines are followed by them? Please provide a copy of that as well. The response by PMR Faculty as CPIO: "Please refer to standard text books of Medicine on guidelines." The gazette guidelines on assessment exist but Prof Gupta follows some ‘textbook of medicine’ and he is a constant in all of these rejections. Moreover, this competent board is not even aware of how to issue this certificate. After Dr Satendra Singh's PIL, the National Medical Commission issued an addendum that those with more than 80% disability may be considered eligible on functional competency with the help of assistive devices. There is no mention of that in the issued certificate. This premier hospital does not even have an Equal Opportunity Policy mandated under the law (See RTI response).

For how long will such unprofessional and unethical practices go unchallenged? The Delhi High Court has already issued directions for re-assessment at AIIMS, Delhi for this woman doctor, but what about many others who have been constantly rejected without rationale after successfully doing MBBS and who can not afford to go to court? The objective of these screening centers should be to assist candidates with disabilities and provide reasonable accommodations, as being done by the General Medical Council of the UK. However, they choose to harass their own fellow doctors."

Read the order embedded below:

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