The National Board of Education has informed the Supreme Court that if the NEET-PG exam is postponed, it is unlikely that any alternative date will be made available, as over two lakh people have already registered for it.

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On Friday, the National Board of Examinations (NBE) told the Supreme Court that approximately 209,000 people have signed up for the NEET-PG exam in 2023, which is planned for March 5. If it is put off, there may not be an alternative date available soon.

The Supreme Court was hearing two petitions that requested a delay of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET)-PG exam before a bench of justices S R Bhat and Dipankar Datta. They did not make a ruling either way, but asked the Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati, who was representing the National Board of Examinations (NBE), to come up with an answer to the problem posed by the petitioners.

The people who have signed the petition have asked that the exam be delayed as the counselling must happen after August 11th as the deadline for the internship has been pushed back to that date. The court noted that this waiting period is a great source of stress for the people who have been studying for the exam and that when the judicial exam is postponed it changes the situation for those involved.

When the bench asked how many applicants would be impacted by this, Gopal Sankaranarayanan, representing the petitioners, suggested that the Supreme Court ask the NBE to explain the situation. Later, ASG Bhati entered the discussion and informed the bench that he had some information on the examination. He stated that approximately 209,000 individuals had registered for the exam, a tech partner had been recruited to administer the exam, and all preparations had been completed.

Sankaranarayanan informed the court that 13 petitioners have raised an issue that affects approximately 45,000 people, and the cutoff date for internships has been extended to August 11th. She continued by saying that if the examination is postponed, it is likely that no other test date will be available in the near future since their technological partner may not be available. The authorities, however, are attempting to abide by the timeline established by the highest court.

Sankaranarayanan informed the bench that the deadline for the counselling has been shifted to August 11, and the counselling will only take place after the said date. He added that the gap between the exam and the counselling was more than 5 months, thus leaving the students with little time to prepare due to their 12 hour internships. He requested that they should bring their internship certificates when they attend the counselling.

The court noted that those who have been preparing for some time need to be told to wait, and that this is a form of torture for those who are eligible and waiting. Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, representing the petitioners, noted that the problem has arisen due to the varying internship schedules across the states. The bench asked the ASG for a solution to the problem, but clarified that it was not suggesting that the internship should be postponed.

The highest court noted that the petitioners became qualified for the exam due to the date for internship being extended to August 11. It then went on to say that usually, such applicants had to wait for several months and now that they have the chance to take the exam, they are asking for it to be delayed. It concluded by making it clear that the court was not making a ruling either way and was leaving it undecided.

The court has set a date of February 27 for further examination of the case. Tanvi Dubey, the lawyer for the applicants, has argued that the modifications to the eligibility criteria by the NBE demonstrate incompetence and lack of foresight, not giving the contestants enough time to get ready.

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya informed the Lok Sabha on February 10 that the NEET-PG examination would be held on March 5 as planned, for those aiming to pursue postgraduate medical courses. To guarantee that no one is excluded, the ministry has broadened the cutoff date for all MBBS students who have yet to complete their internship, he answered to a question asked by a Congress member. The ministry has extended the cutoff date from June 30 to August 11 for NEET-PG candidates to finish their obligatory one-year internship.

Mayank Tewari

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