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Supreme Court Allows NEET Counselling For PG & UG Admissions For 2021-2022 Based On Existing EWS/OBC Reservation In All India Quota

Shruti Kakkar & Mehal Jain
7 Jan 2022 5:14 AM GMT
Supreme Court Allows NEET Counselling For PG & UG Admissions For 2021-2022 Based On Existing EWS/OBC Reservation In All India Quota
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The Supreme Court on Friday allowed the commencement of counselling process for NEET-PG and NEET-UG for 2021-22 admissions on the basis of the existing 27% quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC) and 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections(EWS) in the All India Quota.The Court upheld the constitutionality of 27% OBC reservation. As regards criteria to determine EWS(Rupees 8 lakhs...

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The Supreme Court on Friday allowed the commencement of counselling process for NEET-PG and NEET-UG for 2021-22 admissions on the basis of the existing 27% quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC) and 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections(EWS) in the All India Quota.

The Court upheld the constitutionality of 27% OBC reservation. As regards criteria to determine EWS(Rupees 8 lakhs gross annual income cut-off), the Court allowed the existing criteria to operate for the current admission year so as to not delay the admission process further. However, future application of EWS criteria, which has been stipulated in the Office Memorandum of July 2019, will be subject to final outcome of the petitions.

A bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna, which had reserved orders yesterday, pronounced the verdict today morning.

The Court passed an interim order with the following directions :

1. We accept the recommendations of the Pandey committee that the criteria which has been stipulated in OM 2019(for EWS) be used for 2021–20 22 in order to ensure that the admission process is not dislocated

2. Counselling on the basis of NEET PG 2021 and NEET UG 2021 shall be conducted by giving effect to the resolution as provided by the notice dated 29 July 2021 including the 27% reservation for OBC category and 10% reservation for EWS category in the All India Quota seats

3. The criteria for determination of the EWS notified by OM 2019 shall be used for identifying the EWS category who appeared for Neet UG and Neet PG 2021 examinations

4. The validity of the criteria determined by the Pandey committee for identifying the EWS  prospectively for the future be subject to the final results of the petitions

5. The petition shall be listed for final hearing on the validity of the EWS criteria as recommended by the Pandey committee in the third week of March 2022.

The bench had extensive arguments made by Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, Arvind P Datar, P Wilson, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor General of India KM Nataraj and few intervenors in the case for two days.

Summary of arguments

Senior Advocate Shyam Divan argued that introducing OBC/EWS reservations in July after the issuance of exam notification amounted to changing the rules of the game midway.

His arguments were mainly two-fold - that the introduction of OBC/EWS quota amounted to changing the rules of the game in the middle; that the quota could not have been introduced through an executive instruction as the AIQ was carved out by the Court.

He also argued that postgraduate admissions must be completely merit-based and reservations must be minimal. He referred to Supreme Court judgments which hold that there should be no reservation in super-speciality courses.

"In many courses, postgraduate is the end of the road, and that is the super-speciality in some departments. So the principle regarding super-speciality courses will apply to postgraduate courses too", he submitted.

Senior Advocate Arvind Datar argued that the Rupees 8 lakh cut-off for EWS is "over-inclusive" and "arbitrary" and was adopted without conducting any proper study. According to him, applying this criterion uniformly across the country is unreasonable, in view of regional income disparities. He urged that the Court should direct the Centre to adopt the criteria of Rs 2.5 lakhs (up to which there is no income tax liability), if at all EWS is to be implemented.

Rebutting these arguments, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta asserted that the EWS criteria was arrived at after conducting extensive deliberations. He highlighted that the exercise is not to identify the "poor" category but the "economically weaker sections". So, it has to be distinguished from BPL category.

The top law officer of the Union Government submitted that not allowing reservation in All India Quota would amount to discrimination.

The Solicitor General had made submissions, requesting the Court to allow the commencement of NEET-PG Counselling.

"Let us proceed with the counselling. Let that stage be over. Your lordships may start hearing the matter in the meanwhile and we can assist the court in great detail. We need doctors and their concerns are genuine. As a society, we cannot go into lengthy arguments now. We said we will revisit and the report has been submitted now", the Solicitor General submitted.
Senior Advocate P Wilson, appearing for the DMK party, made arguments in support of OBC reservation in All India Quota.
 Background

The case relates to the challenge against the validity of the Centre's decision to introduce OBC/EWS reservation in the All India Quota of NEET admissions. The dispute has its origin in the notification issued by the Central Government on July 29, which introduced 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes(OBCs) and 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections(EWS) in the All India Quota(AIQ) for undergraduate and postgraduate medical / dental courses (MBBS / MD / MS / Diploma / BDS / MDS) from the current academic year 2021-22 onwards.

During the hearing, the Supreme Court raised doubts regarding the reasonableness of the Rupees 8 lakh gross annual income limit adopted by the Centre to determine EWS cut-off. The bench also passed a detailed order recording its doubts over the reasonableness of the EWS limit.

On October 25, the Central Government told the Supreme Court that the NEET counselling will not commence while the EWS-OBC issue was pending adjudication.

On November 25, the Centre agreed to revisit the EWS criteria in the light of the Court's concerns and decided to formulate a Committee to examine the issue. The Centre sought for weeks time to complete the exercise. Accordingly, the Supreme Court had then adjourned the case to January 6, 2022.

Last week, the Centre filed an affidavit saying that the Committee has recommended the retention of the existing EWS criteria for the ongoing admissions and that it has accepted the said recommendation.

In the Report on Review of the Criteria for EWS Reservation, the Committee opined that disturbing the existing system which is ongoing since 2019 at the fag end would create more complications than expected both for the beneficiaries as well as for the authorities. In this regard, the Committee has recommended introducing the new criteria from the next academic year.

"Under these circumstances, it is completely unadvisable and impractical to apply the new criteria (which are being recommended in this report) and change the goal post in the midst of the ongoing processes resulting in inevitable delay and avoidable complications. When the existing system is ongoing from 2019, no serious prejudice would be caused if it continues for this year as well. Changing the criteria midway is also bound to result in spate Of litigations In various courts across the country by the people/persons whose eligibility would change suddenly.

The Committee, therefore, after analysing the pros and cons on this issue and after giving serious consideration, recommends that the existing and on- going criteria in every on-going process where EWS reservation is available, be continued and the criteria recommended in this Report may be made applicable from next advertisement / admission cycle," Committee had said the report in this regards.

Based on the recommendations, the Central Government has agreed to accept the Committee's recommendation of applying the new criteria prospectively.

It may be noted that resident doctors across the country had launched protests across the country recently against the delay in NEET-PG counselling.
Case Title : Neil Aurelio Nunes and others versus Union of India
Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 17

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