Pooja (name changed), a hearing impaired student from Jammu, went to Government Medical College and Hospital in Sector 32 Chandigarh last week to get the disability certificate. “I was told that the board has not been meeting and I would not be able to get the certificate. My family requested them and said if I am not examined and given the certificate I would lose my seat and might not get the desired college in time. It was then that the needful was done,” she said. But after Pooja went back to Jammu she fell sick and tested positive for Covid-19.
About 420 differently-abled students have qualified for NEET this year and are required to travel to 12 designated disability centres across India to get the requisite disability certificate, a requirement if the differently-abled candidate wants to avail of the 5% disabled quota in educational institutions. However, disability rights activists have questioned the need to make differently-abled candidates travel to the designated centres during Covid-19 outbreak. Dr Satendra Singh, founder Doctors with Disabilities, said, “Delhi University has exempted divyang students from getting this certificate for the time being. There are government guidelines which exempt differently abled employees from attending office physically till the end of the pandemic. So why this discrimination against students? No other category of students tapping into a government quota has to prove credentials before admission.”
Singh, whose organisation has been supporting differently-abled students through the NEET selection process, says that all students have government-issued unique identity card. Singh said, “They have to undergo this test to go to the next level of counselling. Then once they are finally selected, the college also checks everything before they are finally admitted. During a pandemic, they can at least be spared the trouble of travelling to far away centres to get a certificate.”
Secretary (disability affairs) Shakuntala Gamlin told ET, “These candidates are availing 5% disability quota. The guidelines require the students to get assessed at designated disability centres to ensure there is no misuse of the quota and only the deserving candidates with 40-80% disability get the certificate.” Gamlin said the unique identity card (UDID) issued by her department to the disabled students is to enumerate the differently-abled in each district and ensure welfare measures reach them. “The card issued does not gauge the percentage of disability (a requirement for availing the disability quota) which is done by the board at the designated centres,” Gamlin said.
Even when students travel the distance and appear before the boards, there is a lot of uncertainty over guidelines. Pradeep (name changed), a low vision candidate who appeared at Institute of Medical Sciences at Banaras Hindu University, said, “During the assessment I was told I have about 50% disability. Now the final certificate I have received on Monday says 10%. Now I don’t know how to challenge this.” Despite repeated attempts, health ministry did not respond to a questionnaire sent by ET.