After a medical student wrote to the Prime Minister’s office regarding National Board of Examinations’ alleged Rs 30 crore-profit, the board has said that the fees were approved by the Ministry of Health, a charge which Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has denied.

The matter came to light after an RTI response revealed that the National Board of Examinations (NBE) collected Rs 48 crore as application fees from NEET-PG aspirants in 2018. Scores of medical students alleged that if logistics and other charges were taken into consideration, the board had made a profit of over Rs 30 crore, which should have been subsidized. They said that the collected fees were almost four times of what AIIMS charges for its postgraduate exams.

The NBE, an autonomous government agency under the ministry of health that conducts the national entrance test for post-graduate medical course, charges Rs 3,750 from each student (in general and OBC categories) for applying for the test, while institutes like AIIMS charge Rs 1,000 and Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) charges Rs 1,600 for the application. Similarly, IIT Kanpur charges Rs 400 from general and OBC categories, while charging Rs 200 from SC/ST candidates.

Khader Meeran, a medical student at MGIMS, Sevagram filed a series of RTIs to both AIIMS and NBE, following which he wrote to the PMO. His grievance was forwarded by the PMO to NBE, which closed the case on July 31, stating, “fee of NEET PG is approved by governing body of NBE and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW)”.

But in an RTI response, the Ministry clarified that this wasn’t the case. It said, “In so far as Medical Education Policy Section of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is concerned, it is informed that the ministry does not deal with the application fees as prescribed by National Board of Examination for NEET PG.”

The response on August 9, added, “However, the information bulletin for NEET PG is vetted by the ministry so as to ensure that the same is in consonance with the prescribed regulations and approval in this regard has been conveyed to the National Board of Examination. The information bulletin for NEET PG has been approved as received from NBE.”

NBE had received Rs 48.07 crore as application fee from NEET-PG 2018 applications – of which it paid 8.01 crore to the company that conducted the computer-based test, as per an RTI reply from NBE on June 28. AIIMS, which conducts tests twice a year, received Rs 5.04 crore for its AIIMS-PG 2018 January session – of which it spent 3.68 crore for conducting the exam, as per an RTI reply on April 4, 2018. In response to other expenses, NBE didn’t respond to several appeals and on June 14 said, “it is not possible to determine the expenditure.”

In 2017, NBE had appointed Prometric for conducting the test and this year, it appointed Tata Consultancy Services(TCS) for conducting the exam – the same firm that conducts the computer-based test for AIIMS. In his grievance to the PMO, he said, “Therefore, the expenses borne by NBE & AIIMS for their respective PGentrance examinations are expected to be same at the least.” While Prometric was paid Rs 17 crore, TCS was paid Rs 8 crore, revealed the RTI query.

“Even if the examination is outsourced to an independent body, it is unclear as to why it is priced so high. This is not a profit making exercise – you will have an operation cost, but this seems ridiculously high. There is very little justification for such high rates, especially when you want people from all classes to apply,” said Dr. Anant Bhan, researcher, global health, policy and bioethics.

Bhan added, “Most don’t get through on a single attempt. So the costs will add up for the medical student.”

In August 2017, the National Board of Examinations (NBE), regulatory body for postgraduate medical education, has removed its executive director Bipin Batra for allegedly occupying the post in violation of rules. The move comes in the wake of allegations of irregularities, lack of transparency and malfunctioning of the NBE administration along with charges of malpractices in the conduct of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET).

While the Health Ministry denied comment officially, a senior official said, “This is a matter of concern since the entrance tests are just the first step to the larger mission of ensuring that India has enough doctors.”

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