Coming to the aid of a disabled female student, suffering from dysgraphia, who was not granted an additional hour of compensatory time in NEET (UG) examination and her answer sheet was forcefully taken away, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the National Testing Agency (NTA) to consider taking steps to rectify the injustice done to her within one week.
Dysgraphia causes impaired handwriting and demonstrates inconsistent handwriting, poor spelling and spacing, transcription difficulties, and incoherence.
The top court said individual injustices originating in a wrongful denial of rights and entitlements prescribed under the law cannot be sent into oblivion on the ground that these are a necessary consequence of a competitive examination.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna, however, refused to grant the relief to the student, who has been diagnosed with a 40 per cent permanent disability, for holding re-examination for the NEET (UG).
"The appellant was wrongfully deprived of compensatory time of one hour while appearing for the NEET without any fault of her own, despite her entitlements as a Person with Disabilities (PwD) and a Person with Benchmark Disability (PwBD). Accordingly, the first respondent (NTA) is directed to consider what steps could be taken to rectify the injustice within a period of one week. Further, it shall take necessary consequential measures under intimation to the DGHS," it said.
It said the steps taken by the NTA in furtherance of the court's direction must be communicated to the Registry of this Court by filing a status report within two weeks.
Justice Chandrachud, who penned the verdict said, "It is no answer for an authority bound by the dicta of law and the Constitution, to throw up its hands in despair, instead of attempting to remedy the injustice which is caused to a student. A judge cannot ignore that behind the statistics is a human face, reflecting the aspirations, joy, and tears of a student and her family".
The bench noted the girl student has secured an All India Rank of 1721 out of 2684 candidates qualified in the PwD category and concerning Maharashtra she has secured rank 249 out of 390 candidates in the PwD category.
The NTA has stated that approximately 15.4 lakh candidates appeared at the NEET (UG) 2021 on September 12, 2021, for which the result was declared on November 1, 2021, and the All India Rank was forwarded on November 9, 2021, to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to conduct counselling for admission.
The bench said the NTA, as an examining body, was bound to scrupulously enforce the Guidelines for Written Examinations which provides for specific relaxations.
"The appellant has suffered an injustice by a wrongful denial of these relaxations and a lack of remedy by this Court would cause irretrievable injustice to the life of the student. The Rights of Persons With Disabilities (RwPD) Act 2016 prescribing beneficial provisions for persons with specified disabilities would have no meaning unless it is scrupulously enforced," it said.
It added, "In our view, the first respondent (NTA) cannot be allowed to simply get away when confronted with the situation in hand whereby injustice has been caused to a student by standing behind the situation of a large competitive examination".
The bench noted the NTA's submissions that in an examination of such large proportions where over 16 lakh students registered and over 15 lakh students appeared, it would not be possible to undo the injustice which has been done to a single candidate.
"The first respondent (NTA) must remember that all authority under the law is subject to the responsibility, and above all, to a sense of accountability. The first respondent is governed by the rule of law and by the constitutional requirement of observing fairness. Behind the abstract number of '15 lakh students' lie human lives that can be altered due to the inadvertent, yet significant errors of the first respondent," it said.
The bench said in the present case, the student had sought a re-examination where she would be allowed compensatory time as mandated by the Guidelines for Written Examination and the NEET Bulletin 2021.
"We are in agreement with the view.that holding a fresh examination is neither practicable nor proper. Holding a fresh examination will delay medical admissions and cause uncertainty and chaos. To that extent, the denial of the relief sought for conducting a fresh examination for the appellant is not disturbed," it said.
The bench said, "This Court would eschew the course of dictating the manner in which the grievance should be rectified, leaving it to the discretion of the testing agency which is entrusted with the overall responsibility of conducting the examination.In the present case, we are of the categorical view that the first respondent cannot shirk or abrogate its responsibility to rectify the injustice which has been caused to the appellant".
The bench said for effective participation of the students with disabilities in the society, which undoubtedly is the salutary object of the legislation, the safeguards which are provided by the law must be duly enforced and any breach of entitlement must be answerable at law.
"Responsibility and power without accountability are an anathema to our Constitution," it said, adding the number of cases where such injustices take place maybe a few or more than that but it cannot be ignored that for a student who is made to suffer, the consequence is indeed serious.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)