The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a plea by a group of doctors seeking an extension of the deadline for completion of internship beyond July 31, 2022, for NEET-PG to enable those whose internship was delayed due to COVID duties. A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant, and Bela M Trivedi observed that extending the deadline beyond July 31, 2022, will disrupt the entire academic schedule. The bench said, “Whenever there is a cut-off some students are likely to fall on either side of the dividing line. Any extension of the cut-off would result in the disruption of the education schedule”. It added that the alternative prayer for inclusion of COVID duties would also involve the court to micro-manage the curriculum. “Though there will undoubtedly be an element of hardship, it would not be possible at this stage to disrupt the education of a large body of students. Hence, in our considered view it would not be appropriate to interfere”, the bench said. At the outset, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati said that July 31 is the date to which the internship can be extended. “The examination is scheduled to be held in May and the counselling is scheduled to be held in the third and fourth week of July. Classes are scheduled to start from the first or second week of August. If the internship deadline is extended beyond July 31, then the entire academic session is bound to be disrupted”, she said. Bhati, however, said that during normal times the deadline is March 31 but considering the pandemic situation, this year it has been extended.
The bench agreed with the law officer that the entire academic session will get affected and said, “If we accept petitioner’s submission everything will go for a toss and would have a cascading effect”. Senior advocate Gopal Sankarnarayanan said that petitioners could not do the internship earlier as they were engaged in COVID duties after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an appeal last year. He said that one way to deal with the problem is to allow the COVID duties to be treated as a period of internship. Bhati opposed the submission and said that COVID duties cannot be accepted as it does not cover all the specialities and accepting the submission would amount to diluting the internship programmes. Sankaranarayanan said that the government has to put its act together and must come out with some generosity. “When you require people for COVID requirements, you ask these doctors to go and join the COVID duties. Now one year has been wasted”, he said.
Initially, the deadline for internship was May 31, which was extended later to July 31 after the court directed the Centre to consider the representation. The doctors have sought direction to allow the candidates who fail to complete the internship by July 31 but are eligible as per other criteria. The plea said that the revised deadline of July 31, 2022 leaves behind thousands of candidates particularly from the state of Bihar, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, and Kerala (among other states) as ineligible to apply for NEET-PG as they would not be able to conclude their internship within the stipulated time.