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Court cannot interfere with cut-off dates in academic matters: Delhi High Court

Fixing of a cutoff date is completely out of the purview of a writ petition filed under article 226 of Constitution of India. The writ court cannot take upon itself the task of administering the examination and fixation of the schedule. This was held by Hon’ble Justice Prateek Jalan in the case of SH Arman Sindhu Vs. Union of India and Ors. [W.P.(C) 8429/2021 & CM APPL. 26090/2021] on the 18th of August before the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi at New Delhi.

The brief facts of the case are, the petitioner is a doctor. He has completed the MBBS course from Rohilkhand Medical College, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh and wishes to pursue a post graduate degree. The grievance with which he has approached the Court is that the respondents have fixed 30.09.2021 as the last date for completion of the compulsory one-year rotational internship to enable a candidate to participate in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (Post Graduate) examination to be held on 11.09.2021.  due to circumstances arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, the NEET-PG examination, which is normally held in the month of January, has been postponed to 11.09.2021. In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, by a notification dated 07.04.2020, the Medical Council of India, now the National Medical Commission extended the last date for completion of internship to 30.04.2021. The NEET-PG examination has now been scheduled for 11.09.2021 by a notice dated 13.07.2021 issued by the NBE. By a further notice dated 06.08.2021, the NBE has decided to open a second phase for registration of candidates between 16.08.2021 to 20.08.2021, and to extend the cut-off date for completion of internship to 30.09.2021. The petitioner will complete his internship only on 25.10.2021, and therefore seeks a direction upon the respondents to extend the date of completion of internship from 30.09.2021 to 31.10.2021.

The counsel for the petitioner submits that due to circumstances arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, the NEET-PG examination, which is normally held in the month of January, has been postponed to 11.09.2021. According to him, the schedule laid down by the respondents is entirely consistent with completion of the internship by 31.10.2021 or even later. He submits that such a modification would not disturb the proposed schedule, and would ensure to the benefit of several candidates whose internship will not be completed by 30.09.2021, but soon after. The counsel for the respondents submitted that the writ court ought not to interfere with the cut-off date fixed by the examination conducting authorities, which has been fixed keeping all the relevant factors in mind. They submit that the petitioner would, in the normal course, not have been eligible to appear in the NEET-PG examination in 2021, on account of the fact that he would not have completed the internship within the normal eligibility date of 31.03.2021. As far as the extended schedule for this year is concerned, his internship has been delayed due to the fact, as stated in the writ petition, that he was unable to take one of his four final year papers in March 2020, for shortage of attendance. Learned counsel point out that if he had taken all the papers in March 2020, his internship would have concluded before the stipulated date of 30.09.2021 and he would have been permitted to take the NEET-PG, 2021.

The learned judge heard the submissions of both the parties and relied on the judgement in GA Vishwajeet vs. Union of India and Others W.P. (C) 16526/2021 wherein, “This Court is sympathetic to the passionate claim that has been made by the petitioner seeking for the extension of the cut-off date for completion of the internship. However, sympathy by itself cannot be a ground for issuing any positive directions, more particularly, when it comes to education. The cut-off dates are not fixed based on individual claims made and the respondents will have to take into consideration a wide range of options and take a decision. The respondents had infact taken into consideration the pandemic situation and had extended the time for the completion of the internship from 30.06.2021 up to 30.09.2021. The learned counsel appearing on behalf of the 2nd respondent has made it clear that there is no further scope for extension of the cut-off date beyond 30.09.2021. It will be very difficult for the Courts to interfere into every decision that is taken on the Administrative side and fixing of a cutoff date is completely out of the purview of a writ petition filed under article 226 of Constitution of India. The petitioner is trying to project his individual grievance and is seeking for the extension of the cut-off date. However, if such a claim is entertained, it will open flood gates and every student who was not able to complete the internship on or before 30.09.2021, will approach this Court seeking for a similar direction and it will only end up in chaos”.

Applying this rationale, the court in the present case dismissed the petition by holding, “I am of the view that relief cannot be granted in this writ petition. The respondents have already extended the cut-off date for completion of the internship, keeping in mind the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent delay in holding the NEET-PG examination. The writ court cannot take upon itself the task of administering the examination and fixation of the schedule. As held in the decisions cited by the respondents, there is a degree of inherent randomness in the fixation of a cut-off date which may, in a given case, cause hardship to a candidate or a group of candidates.”

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