Rajasthan High Court has found the allotment process of seats for admission to PG Courses 2020 by the State of Rajasthan, on the basis of the National Eligibility Entrance Test- 2020 (NEET), to be arbitrary and unreasonable. In response to petitions filed by grieved students, the Court looked into the manner of allotment of seats for admission to Medical PG Courses-2020 and noted that the online allotment process adopted this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic has created an exceptional situation where the inability to maintain an up-to-date seat matrix has compromised the merit-based allotment process of earlier years.
The Jaipur Bench of the Court ordered relief by directing the State of Rajasthan, NEET PG Medical and Dental Admission/Counselling Board and Medical Council Of India to change its participation criteria in the subsequent round of allotment i.e. the Mop Up round to allow the petitioners to participate in it and to therein correct the allotment of the seats to the petitioners.
In a separate petition before the Jodhpur Bench of the Court regarding the same examination process, the Jodhpur Bench also granted relief to the petitioner as per the direction of the Jaipur Bench.
Background to the case:
The counselling process to Medical PG Courses is conducted in two rounds on the basis of the rank list of NEET. Candidates allotted seats in the first round of counselling are allowed to forfeit their allotted seat if they get upgraded in the second round of counselling. In physical mode of counselling, the seat vacated by such a student was immediately offered to the student next in the rank list. But this year, in the online mode of counselling, students who got upgraded in the second round of counselling did not vacate the seat allotted to them in the first round of couselling until the end of the second round of counselling. As a result of this, students participating in the second round of couselling could only compete for a limited pool of seats unlike the practice of earlier years where they also competed for the seats vacated by students who got better seats in the second counselling session.
Moreover, this year, all the leftover seats (vacated by students of first counselling session + the leftover seats) were to be offered in the mop-up round in which no students who were allotted seats in the second round of counselling were eligible to participate.
Petitions were filed in the Rajasthan High Court challenging the Government Notification dated 24th July, 2020 to the extent that it did not allow the petitioners who were allotted colleges in the second round of counselling to participate in the mop up round. They contended that the process of allottement of seats this year is in prejudice to those students who were next in merit to the students who were allotted seats in the first round of counselling as they were not allowed to compete for the seats vacated by the students who got upgraded in the second round of counselling and that such seats shall now be allotted to lesser meritorious candidates in the mop-up round as the petitioners are not allowed to participate in it.
The Court found merit in the petitioner's contention and observed that
"the exercise, which has been carried out by the respondents in second round of counselling, did not have the availability of seats on account of resignation of the joined candidates of round one and the same has resulted into availability of less number of seats of the candidates who participated in the second round of counselling like the petitioners."
The Court acknowledged the difficulties of the respondent in maintaining a proper seat matrix due to online conduction of round two of conselling due to COVID-19 but stated that care should have been taken to get correct position of seats and option of resignation to the candidates was also required.
The Court rejected the contention of the respondents that its process of allotment was justified and based on merit and referred to several decisions of the Supreme Court emphasizing that the criteria for selection has to be merit alone and that merit, fairness and transparency are the ethos of the process for admission to medical courses.
"The Rule of merit should not be defeated by inefficiency, inaccuracy or improper methods of admission."
To correct the prejudice to the petitioners, the Court directed the respondents to permit petitioners to participate in the Mop-up round and stated that they cannot be rendered ineligible.
The Court ruled
"the condition contained in the Notification dated 24th July, 2020 declaring the petitioners ineligible for participation in Mopup/residuary allotments in P.G. seat, is declared arbitrary and the same is set aside. The respondents are directed to include the petitioners in Mop-up round and if the petitioners have requisite merit, their cases may be considered, as per their merit and preferences."
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