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Can A State Prescribe Qualification For Admission To Medical Courses Higher Than Minimum Eligibility Criteria Prescribed by MCI?: SC To Consider

Mehal Jain
7 Aug 2021 4:40 AM GMT
Can A State Prescribe Qualification For Admission To Medical Courses Higher Than Minimum Eligibility Criteria Prescribed by MCI?: SC To Consider
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The Supreme Court will consider on August 13 the issue as to whether a state has the competence to prescribe rules providing for 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 bench of Justices D. Y. Chandrachud and M. R. Shah was hearing the state of Assam's SLP...

The Supreme Court will consider on August 13 the issue as to whether a state has the competence to prescribe rules providing for 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 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 Gauhati 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 short of 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 noted 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 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.

On Friday, at the Supreme Court, Senior Advocate Maninder Singh for the state of Assam advanced that a uniform common entrance test does not take away the state's jurisdiction to have higher standards.

At this, Justice Shah observed, "There is a judgment of the Supreme Court which says that once the NEET has come into inception, the admission has to be through NEET only."

Noting that in the indicated case, the MCI was also before the Court, the bench asked Mr. Singh to get in touch with the advocate for the MCI, clarify which judgment that was and peruse it.

Mr. Singh also drew the attention of the bench to the 2019 Supreme Court judgment in Yatinkumar Jasubhai Patel v. State of Gujarat where a three-judge bench had observed that "Institutional Preference" in the Post Graduate Medical Courses is permissible even after the introduction of the NEET Scheme. "Your Lordships have held that the state remains entitled to extend institutional preference", he argued.

"We will consider. You also read that judgment we indicated. We will have this next Friday", said the bench, adjourning the matter to August 13.

However, the bench did not issue notice on the SLP.

It has been advanced on behalf of the petitioner-state that section 10D only prescribes holding of uniform entrance examination throughout the country at undergraduate and postgraduate level and does not deal with requisite qualifications for admission at the state-quota seats which is provided in the Exam Rules of 2017. It is argued that the additional/higher qualifications prescribed by the petitioner-state did not dilute the minimum eligibility standards as laid down by the MCI under the GME Regulations of 1997, that the impugned Rule is consistent with and it does not adversely impact the eligibility standards laid down in the GME Rules, 1997, that is, minimum of 50% marks in aggregate in physics, chemistry and biology/biotechnology in the qualifying examination.

It was advanced on behalf of the petitioner state that,

"Section 10D of the 1956 Act prescribes a uniform entrance examination for undergraduate and postgraduate level through designated authority instead of holding separate entrance examinations state wise, region wise etc and it nowhere prescribes the eligibility for admission into medical colleges of the country. The High Court while deciding the writ petition acted on the misconception that the eligibility criteria prescribed for appearing in the NEET is the eligibility criteria for admission into MBBS course".

It was urged that the petitioner-state has the competence under the constitutional scheme to prescribe rules providing for higher/additional qualifications for admission to medical courses than minimum eligibility criteria laid down by the Union of India or its delegate MCI, so that ultimately public interest is served in having more medical meritorious students admitted in MBBS/BDS courses.

It was submitted that, 

"Merit should be the sole criteria in admission to higher educational courses and the impugned Rule 4(2)(c), providing for higher qualifying marks of 60%, does not defeat, but rather furthers the merit criteria and ensures selection of better students".

The state of Assam has contended that the 'Information Bulletin' published by the CBSE which conducted the NEET-2018 (in which the proceedings before the High Court have their genesis) repeatedly provided that after the declaration of results, the state counselling authorities shall fill up the state-quota seats as per the admission criteria, eligibility, rank in merit list etc prescribed by the respective state and medical/dental college.

"In spite of due diligence, the information bulletin could not be placed before the writ court at the time of adjudication of the writ petition and had the information bulletin been placed before the court, the impugned judgement of August, 2019 would have been very different. The review court discarded the same on technical grounds", it was submitted.

Proceedings Before The High Court

The petitioner before the High Court that he had passed class 12th examination in Science stream from Assam Higher Secondary Education Council securing 55, 62 and 54 marks in Physics, Chemistry and Biology respectively, in one attempt, securing an average of 57% marks. He had appeared in the NEET, UG/2018 conducted by the CBSE for admission to MBBS/BDS courses in medical/dental colleges in India, and secured 421 marks out of 720 marks as a general category candidate and All-India ranking of 610902. Subsequently, the petitioner's name figured at serial number 332 of the list of successful candidates in state quota. The petitioner was called for counselling and in the process of counselling, his candidature was rejected by letter dated July 5, 2018 issued by the Director of Medical Education on the ground that the petitioner was not eligible as per the GME Rules because the average marks secured by him in physics, chemistry and biology was less than 60%.

The High Court 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 noted that Entry 25 of List III of the Seventh Schedule itself restricts the field of legislation providing that such law framed by the state legislature dealing with education, including technical education, medical education and universities, shall be subject to Entries 63, 64, 65 and 66 of List I. "Thus, now the authority of the state to regulate admission to the courses of study in medical education is traceable to Entry 25 of List III", said the bench.

The High Court noted that in the 1999 Constitution Bench decision of the Supreme Court in Dr. Preeti Srivastava' case, it was observed that the MCI had been set up as an expert body to control the minimum standards of medical education and to regulate their observance and as such, has implicit power to supervise the qualifications or eligibility standards for admission into medical institutions. The High Court opined that in the said case, it was held that the state has the right to control education including medical education so long as that field is not occupied by any union legislation and that state cannot, while controlling education in the state, impinge on standards in institutions for higher education as this is exclusively within the purview of the union government.

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 noted 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. "Thus, the power of the state to prescribe higher medical qualification than the minimum qualification laid down by the MCI in 1997 Regulations was the legal position before NEET was introduced", said the High Court.

The High Court concluded that the uniform entrance examination in the form of NEET is conducted by virtue of section 10D of the 1956 Act and the 1997 Regulations, and that the procedure for selection goes to show that there shall be a uniform entrance examination to all medical educational institutions at the undergraduate level, which is NEET, for admission to MBBS course in each academic year and in order to be eligible for admission to MBBS course for an academic year, it shall be necessary for the candidate to obtain minimum of marks at notified percentile in the NEET held for the relevant academic year.

"For appearing in the NEET, eligibility criteria has been prescribed under the 1997 Regulations, as amended.An All-India merit list as well as state/union territory-wise merit list of the eligible candidates shall be prepared on the basis of marks obtained in the NEET and the candidates shall be admitted to MBBS course from the said list only. All admissions to MBBS courses within the respective categories shall be based solely on the marks obtained in the NEET. Uniform entrance examination in the form of NEET is conducted for the purpose of admission. State/union territory-wise merit list of the eligible candidates is also prepared on the basis of marks obtained in NEET for the purpose of admission to MBBS course from the said list. Thus, the uniform entrance examination takes within its fold aspects relating to admission to medical institutions by laying down eligibility criteria in respect of merit", observed the High Court.

In that view of the matter, the High Court found that the impugned Rule 4(2)(c) of the 2017 Rules requiring the candidates to obtain minimum marks in the qualifying examination which is more than the minimum marks required as eligibility prescription to appear in NEET, can negate the candidature of a candidate, who finds place in the merit list of the NEET for admission and therefore, the Rule is directly in conflict with section 10D of the 1956 Act in the 1997 Regulations. "It is no longer a case of MCI prescribing minimum qualifications in respect of which, without impeaching such minimum qualifications, it is permissible for the state to prescribe additional or further qualifications of eligibility", ruled the High Court.

THE STATE OF ASSAM AND ORS v. VICKY KUMAR PATEL

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