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delhi high court

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Case title: Dr. Sri Kiruba Nandini M v. National Board of Examination and Anr.

Case no: W.P.(C) 5633/2024

Dated on: May 10

Quorum: Hon’ble Mr. Justice C. Hari Shankar

Facts of the case:

The petitioner has approached this Court, through Writ Petition, seeking an appropriate writ, order or direction, to set aside the letter dated 12-15 March 2024 whereby the Petitioner’s DNB candidature was cancelled. The petitioner completed her MBBS from Annapoorana Medical College and thereafter she appeared for NEET and was admitted to the DNB post-MBBS in Obstetrics and Gynaecology by the Respondent 1 – National Board of Examinations (NBE) where she was to undergo training in Apollo Hospital. In the third year of her training, the petitioner was diagnosed as suffering from Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Chemotherapeutic treatment of the petitioner started on 30 September 2022. Due to Covid-19 pandemic her condition worsened and was placed on ventilator support. On 15 November 2022 she was discharged from the hospital after having undergone 50 days continuous treatment. On 18 January 2023, the petitioner was again admitted to Apollo Hospital where she underwent allogenic stem cell transplant. On 23 May 2023, Fitness Certificate was issued by certifying that the petitioner was on intensive anti-cancer treatment since 27 September 2022 and that she was fit to rejoin work on 10 July 2023. On 21 July 2023, the petitioner rejoined duties at the Apollo Hospital. On 3 October 2023, the Apollo Hospital wrote to the NBEMS, informing that the petitioner was diagnosed with AML on 27 September 2022, for which she had been on continuous treatment; and that she had taken 296 days of leave. The petitioner was extending her course from 19 August 2023, and that the course would be completed on 10 June 2024. On 11 February 2024, the petitioner apprised the NBEMS of her health condition and requested to extend her DNB training programme from 18 August 2023 to 10 June 2024. On 22 February 2024, the NBEMS wrote to Apollo Hospital expressing serious concerns regarding availment of leave without prior approval from NBEMS. The Apollo Hospital replied by stating that they had informed the NBEMS of the critical state of health of the petitioner and the hospital was waiting for the petitioner to recover to submit the requisite documents.  

Issues:

Whether NBEMS was justified in cancelling the candidature of the petitioner on the ground that the petitioner remained absent from DNB training, without prior approval of the NBEMS?  

  Contentions of the appellant:

The petitioner submitted her response explaining the health issues and to accept her leave under extraordinary circumstances and extend the course from 17.08.2023 to 10.06.2024. The NBEMS vide the impugned communication dated 12-15 March 2024 informed the hospital that the petitioner’s DNB candidature had been cancelled by stating that the training institute did not inform NBEMS regarding her absence and that a DNB Trainees can avail a maximum of 30 days of leave in a year and under normal circumstances leave of one year will not be carried forward to the next year and in exceptional cases such as prolonged illness, the leave may be clubbed with prior approval of NBE.  

Contentions of the respondent:

If the petitioner was indisposed for the period during which she did not attend training, she ought to have submitted a leave application so that her request for leave shall be considered by the NBEMS. Prior approval of NBEMS is necessary before a candidate proceeds on leave. It was only on 3 October 2023 that the Apollo Hospital, Chennai wrote to the NBEMS, informing the petitioner’s prior period of absence. It was only six months after the petitioner had rejoined duty in Apollo Hospital that she addressed an application to the NBEMS, seeking regularisation of the period of her absence from duty of 297 days.

Courts analysis and Judgement:

It is clear from the sequence of events and records that the petitioner was in a critical state of health for the entire period during which she remained absent from training. The petitioner was not in a position to submit leave application or forward medical document either to the Hospital or to the NBEMS. The NBEMS does not dispute the bona-fides of the petitioner’s contention that she was undergoing treatment for the critical illness. The claim is also supported by medical documents. On interpreting Rules 4 to 6 of the Leave Rules, it is observed that they do not stipulate that absence from training without prior approval of the NBEMS can result in cancellation of the candidate’s DNB candidature. Rule 5 states that unauthorised absence from DNB/FNB training for more than seven days may lead to cancellation of registration and hence the usage of the word “may” indicate element of discretion. While deciding whether or not to cancel the DNB candidature, the NBEMS is required to keep all these relevant factors and judiciously exercise the said discretion. A distinction needs to be drawn where the absence of the candidate is negligent or unjustified, from a case in which the absence is bona-fide and owing to circumstances which is beyond the control of the candidate. The NBEMS has to keep in mind the overall public interest. The cancellation of the entire DNB program for the reason that the petitioner did not seek leave in advance would not only destroy her morale but would also do complete disservice to the cause of justice. Any decision to cancel the petitioner’s DNB candidature would clearly result in injustice to the petitioner. The two factors which the NBEMS is required to see is whether the seat is carried over, or whether grant of extension to the candidate would compromise the training of existing trainees but no such contention was averred. The petitioner had never issued any show cause notice proposing to cancel her DNB candidature. The communication dated 22 February 2024 is cautioning her to adhere with the NBEMS leave rules. Cancellation of the DNB candidature of a candidate is an extremely serious matter. In Swadeshi Cotton Mills v. U.O.I. concerning strict compliance with the principle audi alteram partem would apply here with all force. No such decision can be taken without issuing a show cause notice wherein the Candidate is not only required to show cause against cancellation of her candidature, but must also set out the reasons and thereafter an opportunity of personal hearing before taking a decision. The Respondent has failed to follow these procedures and hence the impugned decision cannot sustain in law. Accordingly, the impugned order dated 12/15 March 2024 is quashed and set aside. The DNB candidature of the petitioner is restored. The writ petition stands allowed accordingly, with no orders as to costs.  

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Judgement reviewed by- Parvathy P.V.
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