The Central Government on Thursday told the Supreme Court that it has decided to revisit the Rupees 8 lakh annual income limit set for determining the Economically Weaker Sections(EWS) and will take a fresh decision within 4 weeks.
The Centre further assured that the counselling for NEET admissions will be deferred for a further period of four weeks till a fresh decision is taken on EWS criteria.
It may be recalled that the Supreme Court had earlier raised several questions about this criteria for EWS and made a prima facie observation that it appeared to be arbitrary, while hearing a batch of petitions related to NEET-AIQ.
As the matter was taken on Thursday, the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta told the Court, "In the matter I have instruction to say that the govt has decide to revisit the criteria. We will formulate a committee and take a fresh decision within 4 weeks. Till then the counselling shall remain stayed only. I give my assurance".
Taking note of this development, Senior Advocate Arvind P Datar, appearing for the petitioners, suggested that the implementation of the EWS could be postponed to next academic year, as the admissions for this year are already delayed.
The bench asked the Solicitor General if this option could be explored. "What happens is that we are at the end of November. Suppose you complete it by the end of December and then implementation etc and then the terms would begin only sometime in February-March. Two months, the students are losing the time. This is something you may want to consider", Justice DY Chandrachud, the presiding judge of the bench asked.
The Solicitor General replied that it might be a difficult proposition as the Government wants to take steps as per the Constitutional Amendment providing for economic reservation.
"If they have to do it, let them do it in a proper way. We don't want to push them in a situation where they do something in an improper way- you know, all the problems that we have noticed in our order. Four weeks is not unreasonably long. I am only worried that medical admissions and the medical year is being postponed", Justice Chandrachud said.
The bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath, which was hearing a batch of petitions challenging the Centre's decision to introduce EWS/OBC reservation in the All India Quota for NEET, recorded the submission of the Solicitor General in the order.
The bench recorded in the order in that the assurance given by the Centre regarding deferral of counselling will continue and posted the petitions for hearing on January 6, 2022.
The Solicitor General assured the bench that efforts will be taken to take a decision on EWS criteria as soon as possible.
The order passed by the bench recorded as follows :
"The learned Solicitor General who appears on behalf of the Union of India along with ASG KM Nataraj state that the Government has taken a decision to revisit the criteria with regard to determining the Economically Weaker Sections in terms of the provisions of the explanation to Art 15 of the Constitution inserted by the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act. The Solicitor General states that a period of 4 weeks would be required for this exercise and pending its conclusion, the date of counselling shall stand postponed. This is in view of the assurance which was made at a earlier stage. We direct for listing the hearing of the proceedings on January 6, 2021".
Advocate Vivek Singh pointed out to the bench that in a connected matter, in which he is being led by Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, the challenge is also with regards to reservation for 27% OBC. The bench told him that it has not expressed anything about OBC reservation till now.
On October 24, 2021, the Central Government had assured the Supreme Court that the counselling for NEET-PG would not commence until the Court decided the validity of the Centre's decision to introduce reservation for the Other Backward Classes(OBC) and the Economically Weaker Sections(EWS)in the All India Quota(AIQ).
Recording this assurance, a bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud observed that if counselling takes place before the Court takes a decision, the "students will be in a serious problem".
The Top Court on October 22, 2021 had posed tough questions over its decision to adopt the criteria of annual income of Rupees 8 lakhs for determining the eligibility for Economic Weaker Sections(EWS) reservation in the NEET-All India Quota.
A bench led by Justice Chandrachud had expressed doubts about the rationale for the Rs 8 lakh annual income limit set by the Centre for EWS criteria uniformly across the nation, and had sought explanations. In the order passed on October 21, the bench had raised a set of specific questions regarding the Rs 8 lakh income limit for EWS. The Court asked if it would not be arbitrary to have the same income limit of Rs 8 lakhs for both the EWS and OBC categories, as the former has no concept of social and educational backwardness.
Pursuant to Top Court's order the Central Government in its affidavit justifying its stand had submitted that the determination of EWS category was the result of serious consideration that had already taken place to determine the criteria in the context of OBC's.
Defending the notice, centre had stated that "The entire process of issuing the impugned notice is with a view to provide reservation to EWS in the society. In order to ensure that the provision of reservation in terms of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment would not prove the detriment of other General Category students, the total number of seats available has been drastically increased by 56% in the last 6 years in respect of MBBS seats and 80% in the last 6 years in respect of PG seats. In the absence of reservation as envisaged in the notice, EWS students are not getting the benefit of reservation and inspite of the increase in the number of seats."
Details Of The Petition
Plea by Dr Neil Aurelio Nunes filed through Dubey Law Associates and filed by Advocate Charu Mathur challenging the amended reservation policy (27% OBC and 10% EWS) in the All India Quota category scheme by the Central Government for UG and PG medical/dental courses as released vide notification dated July 29, 2021 by the Medical Counselling Committee. The petition had also sought a stay on the effect and operation of the July 29 notification and for issuing directions for the constituting committee of experts to examine modalities relating to the current reservation policy. Writ petition by Nunes also sought to declare the One Hundred and Third (Amendment) Act, 2019 ("Amendment Act'') and income limit of Rs 8 lakh per annum for EWS Category as unconstitutional.
Plea Dr Yash Tekwani filed through Dubey Law Associates and filed by Advocate Charu Mathur seeking Supreme Court's directions to quash the July 29, 2021 notification which provided for implementation of the prescribed reservation criteria with effect from the current academic year.
Plea by Dr Madhura Kavishwar filed through Advocate Vivek Singh challenging Centre's notification dated July 29, 2021 providing 27% reservation for OBC and 10% for EWS in All India Quota in admission to Postgraduate medical courses on the ground that it was in direct contravention of the Top Court's judgement in Union of India v R Rajeshwaran & Ors (2003) 9 SCC 294 and Union of India v K Jayakumar & Anr (2008) 17 SCC 478 in which the Court had held that requirement of reservation should not apply to seats of All India Quota.
Plea Dr Apurv Satish Gupta filed through Advocate Subodh S Patil which sought quashing of Centre's decision to introduce 27% reservation quota for OBC and 10% quota for EWS Category in 15% UG Quota and 50% PG quota in All India Medical seats in the State Government Medical Institutions being ultra vires to Constitution of India (102nd) Amendment Act, 2018 by notice dated July 29, 2021 through Director General of Health Services from Academic Year 2021-2022. The petition had also sought ex parte stay on the operation of notice dated July 29, 2021 issued by Director General of Health Services till the disposal of the case.
Plea by NEET MDS 2021 candidates (Christina Ann Thomas) filed through Dubey Law Associates and Advocate Charu Mathur challenging implementation of the notification dated 27% reservation for OBC & 10% for EWS in 50% All India Quota seats from the academic year 2021-2022. The petition also sought to direct Centre to proceed with NEET MDS Counselling on the basis of earlier reservation policy & not as per notice dated July 29, 2021
Case Titles: Neil Aurelio Nunes and Ors v Union of India and Ors; Yash Tekwani and Ors v Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) and Ors; Madhura Kavishwar & Ors v Union of India & Ors; Christina Ann Thomas & Anr v UOI