SC provides relief to NEET candidate with disability

New Delhi: The Supreme Court said on Tuesday that right to education is essentially a right to inclusive education and it is the duty of the authorities to make suitable modifications in the curriculum and the examination system to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

The top court emphasised that right to inclusive education is realised through the provision of reasonable accommodation.

A bench comprising justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna noted that education plays a key role in social and economic inclusion and effective participation in society, and inclusive education is indispensable for ensuring universal and non-discriminatory access to education.

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“The Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises that inclusive education systems must be put in place for a meaningful realisation of the right to education for PwD (persons with disability). Thus, right to education is essentially a right to inclusive education,” said the bench.

The bench said the provision of inclusive education is not limited to children with disabilities but extends to adults with disabilities as well.

“Section 18 provides that the government and local authorities are duty-bound to take measures to promote, protect and ensure participation of PwD in adult education and continuing education programmes on an equal footing with others,” said the bench in its 47-page judgment.

The bench said the present case demonstrates that the appellant who suffers from dysgraphia with a disability of 40 per cent has suffered a tragedy of errors in the process leading up to admission for the graduate medical course in 2021, over which she had no control.

The top court judgment came on a plea by Avni Prasad, who was not given an additional hour of compensatory time as against the three-hour time allocated for regular students in NEET 2021. She claimed that her answersheet was forcibly taken along with the regular students at the examination centre.

Prasad had moved the Bombay High Court seeking a direction to allow her to appear for the NEET entrance test by providing her with the compensatory time, and all other relaxations/benefits she is entitled to by virtue of her disability status. The high court had declined to provide relief to her. She then moved the top court challenging the decision.

Citing the tragedy of errors, the bench noted that she was wrongfully deprived of compensatory time of one hour while appearing for NEET-UG, despite her entitlements as a person with disability and a person with benchmark disability (PwBD).

“Rights and entitlements which are conferred upon PwD cannot be constricted by adopting the definition of benchmark disability as a condition precedent or as a condition of eligibility for availing of the rights,” the SC bench noted.

The top court also directed the National Testing Agency (NTA) to consider taking “steps to rectify the injustice” done to Prasad within one week. The court directed the NTA to ensure that the provisions which are made at the NEET in terms of rights and entitlements available under the Rights of Persons with Disability (RPwD) Act 2016 are clarified in its bulletin.

The bench declined to entertain a contention by the NTA that 15 lakh candidates appeared in the examination and it is not possible to alter the results, which have already been declared.

“Behind the abstract number of ’15 lakh students’ lie human lives that can be altered due to the inadvertent, yet significant errors of it,” said the court.

The top court was informed that Prasad secured an all-India rank of 1,721 out of 2684 candidates who qualified in the PwD category. In Maharashtra, she secured a rank of 249 out of 390 candidates in the same category.

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