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Can A State Prescribe Qualification For Admission To Medical Courses Higher Than NEET Minimum Eligibility Criteria?: SC Issues Notice To UOI, NMC

Mehal Jain
20 Aug 2021 4:20 AM GMT
Can A State Prescribe Qualification For Admission To Medical Courses Higher Than NEET Minimum Eligibility Criteria?: SC Issues Notice To UOI, NMC
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"Can you deny admission because a student has not secured more marks in the qualifying exam than what the NEET prescribes?", Justice Chandrachud asked the State of Assam.

The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the National Medical Commission and the Union of India on the issue of whether a state can prescribe higher/additional qualifications for admission to medical courses than the minimum eligibility criteria laid down by the Centre or the Medical Council of India.The dispute which arose pertains to 2 aspects- one, whether it is open to the state of...

The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the National Medical Commission and the Union of India on the issue of whether a state can prescribe higher/additional qualifications for admission to medical courses than the minimum eligibility criteria laid down by the Centre or the Medical Council of India.

The dispute which arose pertains to 2 aspects- one, whether it is open to the state of Assam to stipulate, for admission in medical/dental courses, a higher qualification of at least 60% aggregate marks in Physics, Chemistry and Biology in the qualifying exam (above the eligibility criteria of minimum average marks of 50% fixed for appearing in NEET), and two, an additional qualification that the candidate should have passed the qualifying exam in the one and same attempt and should not be a compartment student/repeater.

At the outset, on Friday, Justice Chandrachud observed,

"The requirement of 60% in PCB in the one and the same attempt is associated with the qualifying exam. So if you don't pass this requirement, you can't take the NEET and participate in counselling for admission…"

Continuing, the judge noted,

"A student across India can appear in the NEET if they get an aggregate of 50%. The merit list is also drawn on the basis of the NEET marks. Once a student has qualified for NEET, the admission is only on the basis of the NEET marks. Notwithstanding their gradation in the NEET, can you say that you will deny them admission based on the qualifying exam? Can you deny admission because a student has not secured more marks in the qualifying exam than what the NEET prescribes?"

"Also, if I have 50%, though I am a repeater or a compartment student, I am eligible to participate in the NEET and in counselling to seek admission in medical colleges. But now you are saying that we hold you to be ineligible? Because of your prescription, a student otherwise eligible to take the NEET may be deprived", said Justice Chandrachud.

Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, for the state of Assam, submitted, "Your Lordships are looking at the consequence while I am on the subject of  competence of the state."

He drew the attention of the bench to the Supreme Court Constitution Bench decision in the 2016 case of Modern Dental College and Research Centre to submit that the judgment indicates that it is open to states to prescribe higher qualifications.

The bench also recorded his submission that the amendments by the insertion of the aforesaid section 10D and 33(mb) would not preclude the states from laying down higher and additional qualifications.

"This is an interesting question. We will consider it", said the bench, after perusing section 10D, 33(mb), the NEET prescription and the state's prescription.

Stating that "the issue of law needs to be resolved", the bench issued notice on the SLP. Also issuing notice to the NMC and the UOI, the bench granted liberty to the petitioner to implead the two.

The bench of Justices D. Y. Chandrachud and M. R. Shah was hearing the state of Assam's SLP against the August 2019 decision of the Gauhati High Court striking down Rule 4(2)(c) of the Medical Colleges and Dental Colleges of Assam (Regulation of Admission into 1st Year MBBS Course) Rules, 2017, as notified by the government of Assam. Rule 4 provides for the mode of selection of state-quota candidates. Its sub-rule (2) lays down the eligibility criteria of candidates, who qualify in the NEET as per NEET Rules for admission into the 1st year MBBS/BDS courses, to be called for counselling.

Rule 4(2)(c) prescribed a minimum of 60% aggregate marks in Physics, Chemistry and Biology in the qualifying examination as an eligibility condition for admission to medical/dental courses, which is above the eligibility criteria of minimum average marks of 50% fixed for appearing in NEET. The question before the High Court was whether, with the holding of NEET, the state can still continue to prescribe qualifications for admission into medical colleges which is higher than the eligibility qualification for appearing in the NEET or whether such a prescription of eligibility criteria will fall found with the 1956 Indian Medical Council Act and the 1997 Graduate Medical Education Regulations.

The High Court noted that the 1956 Act was amended and section 10D and section 33(mb) were inserted with effect from 2016-

"While 10D provides for uniform entrance examination for undergraduate and postgraduate level, section 33 confers power to the MCI, with the previous sanction of the Central government, to make regulations to provide for various aspects as indicated therein. Thus, with the insertion of section 33(mb), the MCI is empowered to make regulations to provide for designating authority, other languages and the manner of conducting of entrance examinations to all medical institutions", observed the High Court.
The High Court was of the opinion that Section 19A of the 1956 Act expressly empowers the MCI to prescribe minimum standards of medical education required for granting undergraduate medical qualification by universities or medical institutions in India. The High Court also noted that the MCI has amended the 1997 Regulations in 2017 providing that there shall be a uniform entrance examination to all medical institutions at the undergraduate level, namely, the NEET and that in order to be eligible for admission to MBBS course for an academic year, it shall be necessary for a candidate to obtain minimum of marks at 50th percentile in the NEET.
The Court further noted that in the eligibility criteria laid down in the admission notice of NEET, it was stipulated that the candidate must have passed in the subjects of physics, chemistry, biology/biotechnology and English individually, obtaining a minimum of 50% marks taken together in physics, chemistry and biology/biotechnology at the qualifying examination. The bench noted that the admission notice further provides that all admission to MBBS/BDS courses shall be based solely on marks obtained in the NEET.
The High Court found Rule 4(2)(c) to be repugnant to section 10D of the Act, 1956 and the 1997 Regulations and therefore, ultra vires. The review petitions filed against the said judgment were also dismissed in December 2020.

In the connected SLP, the state of Assam has challenged the striking down of Rule 4(2)(b) of the 2017 Rules by the Gauhati High Court by its judgement of December 22, 2020. The said Rule provided that the candidate must pass all the four subjects, that is, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and English of the qualifying examination, in the same sitting and without grace marks.

The petitioner before the High Court had appeared in the Higher Secondary Science Final Examination conducted by the Assam Higher Secondary Education Council in the year 2012. In the final examination of 2012, the petitioner secured 71.2% marks, but she failed in the subject of Physics.\The petitioner thereafter appeared in the compartmental examination in the Physics subject in the year 2013 and secured 58 marks out of 100, passing the Higher Secondary Science Examination in all subjects with overall 71.6% marks. The petitioner also took admission in the Higher Secondary/Senior Secondary in science stream under the National Institute of Open Schooling in September 2018 to make an endeavour to clear all four subjects in one sitting. She appeared in the examination conducted by the NIOS in April 2019 in all four subjects and she was declared pass in all those subjects.

As she was desirous of pursuing the MBBS course, she submitted an application to appear in the NEET (UG)- 2019. As the petitioner, at the time of submission of her application, opted for state-quota seats of Assam, the result of NEET (UG)- 2019 had secured her an All-Assam ranking of 693. She was called to attend the counselling session in July, 2019 for the selection process for admission into the MBBS/BDS course for the session 2019 by the Director of Medical Education, Assam. She appeared but her candidature was rejected by the counselling committee on the ground that she had done 10+2 from NIOS.

The Gauhati High Court found that the prescription of passing all the four subjects of the physics, chemistry, biology/biotechnology (which include practical tests in these subjects) and English of the qualifying examination in the same sitting, as laid down in Rule 4(2)(b), runs contrary to the eligibility criteria prescribed by the central legislation for getting admission into MBBS course "in the face of no such restriction of requiring to pass the said four subjects in the central legislation in the same sitting as it amounts to prescribing additional or further qualification of eligibility which is not permissible". The High Court was of the view that the said Rule is repugnant to section 10D and to the 1997 MCI Regulations and that it is ultra-vires and it was struck down.

THE STATE OF ASSAM AND ORS v. VICKY KUMAR PATEL

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