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Software scuttles medical PG admission

- Court cancels process after librarian designated by varsity fails to explain online system

The future of more than 500 doctors who had cleared their postgraduate entrance test has plunged into doubt with Calcutta High Court striking down the online selection process because of an alleged software glitch.

Soma Chowdhury, who cracked the entrance test held on January 19 but failed to clear the online counselling, had moved court against the process on the grounds that the software stalled when she tried to register her choice of course.

On April 8, the West Bengal University Of Health Sciences failed to demonstrate in court the technical procedure followed for online counselling, prompting Justice Ashoke Kumar Dasadhikari to cancel the admission process. The university had sent a librarian to do the explaining on a laptop.

“…One librarian has come with a laptop, but (the) court had asked the university’s counsel to bring someone who is conversant with the process and software installation, and who can explain the reason for such installation which prevents eligible candidates from submitting applications through the online process,” the judge said.

Justice Dasadhikari said the “software was not correct” and the university authorities were aware of it but “did not take any steps to remove the defects”.

“The entire counselling process is vitiated. Accordingly, the counselling held and all admissions are cancelled…. The university authorities are directed to take steps accordingly and start fresh counselling after correcting the defects of (the) online process,” states the court’s order.

It means that the 515 MBBS doctors awaiting the start of classes have to sit through a second round of counselling or, worse, lose their seats. According to the Medical Council of India, a postgraduate course must be of three years for a degree and two years for a diploma.

The rule-book states: “The Medical Council of India may direct that any student identified as having obtained admission after the last date for closure of admission be discharged from the course of study, or any medical qualification granted to such a student shall not be a recognised qualification for the purpose of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956.”

According to the academic calendar, the last date for admission to PG courses is July 10. The impasse in Bengal has to end within this time for the students to stand a chance of joining the study programme this year.

The last date for the first round of counselling in the state was March 30. The cut-off for admission was April 7. “If the counselling process gets stalled and there is a delay in the process (which has to be completed by July 10), the MCI can even cancel the admissions,” a council official said.

Half the 1,030 PG seats in Bengal are filled through the West Bengal Post Graduate Medical Admission Test and the rest through the all-India National Eligibility and Entrance Test. “In 2012, 169 candidates lost a year because of a court case,” a student said. “The examination is very difficult to crack. I can’t be sure of doing this well next year,” he said.

Bengal produces 1,030 postgraduate doctors every year. But many of them leave the state after earning their degrees, leaving the state perennially short of specialists. Around 800 posts of specialists are vacant in state-run hospitals. The number is likely to increase if Mamata Banerjee’s promise to upgrade 27 hospitals across 11 districts is fulfilled.

Amit Banerjee, vice-chancellor of the West Bengal University Of Health Sciences, said the software for online counselling had been written at the National Informatics Centre in New Delhi, which runs the websites of many ministries. “There’s nothing wrong with the software. The candidate was disqualified because she was applying for something she isn’t eligible for,” he said.

Students blamed the university for sending a librarian to clarify on the alleged software glitch. “Had someone more competent been sent, he or she could have shown that there was nothing wrong with the system. We find ourselves in trouble because of the university,” said a candidate selected for the MD course.

The doctor, a government employee posted at Swastha Bhavan, was among the 50-odd successful applicants who met the vice-chancellor on Wednesday and demanded to know why a librarian was sent to court.

Petitioner Soma was trying to apply for a second postgraduate diploma when the software allegedly stalled. “She has a diploma in maternity and child welfare from 2001. She was trying to apply for a postgraduate diploma either in child health or gynaecology and obstetrics. That’s why the software rejected her attempt,” a university official said.