SC gives the Centre breather, lets it have its say on EWS criteria for NEET-PG admissions for the present

THE Supreme Court on Friday upheld the validity of the 27 per cent reservation to Other Backward Classes(OBCs) in the All India Quota (AIQ) scheme for undergraduate and postgraduate medical/dental courses (MBBS/MD/MS/Diploma/BDS/MDS) from the current academic year 2021-22 onwards.

However, on the question of 10 per cent reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), it made it clear that the current criteria would be subject to the final result of the petitions.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna passed the order to this effect. For the EWS quota in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test-Postgraduate, commonly known as NEET-PG 2021-22, the bench directed that the existing criteria to identify the EWS would continue to ensure that the admission process is not dislocated. The bench said the reasons for its interim order would follow later.

The bench also said it would hear the matter finally in March on the challenge to the EWS criteria as the petitioners had contended that the annual income limit of ₹8 Lakhs per annum for the EWS category was manifestly arbitrary and unconstitutional as the decision to include people with income limit of ₹8 Lakhs per annum was done without any basis whatsoever.

Also read: Issues that the Supreme Court must consider when it hears EWS-NEET case on Wednesday

Speaking to the Leaflet, Dr. Charu Mathur, who is an Advocate-on-Record (AoR) in one of the petitions, said, “By today’s order, the Court has upheld 27 per cent OBC reservation. The Court has upheld last year’s July 21 notification. Looking at the current third wave and to ensure that process of counselling for NEET PG 2021 starts, the Court decided to go with current criteria. Validity of criteria for EWS will be heard in detail in 3rd week of March, 2022”.

The Court’s order has paved the way for the NEET-PG counseling that was halted because of the pendency of the petition. Dr. Mathur said that right now, most of the students are relieved that counseling has started.

The pendency of the case had halted the counseling, which in turn, irked the resident doctors in the national capital and elsewhere. Faced with protests from resident doctors, the Union Government, through the Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, sought urgent hearing of the petitions and urged the Court to allow the counseling to take place.

On October 7, 2021, the Supreme Court asked the union government to clarify the basis for adopting ₹8 lakhs as the income criterion for determining the EWS category. The union government accordingly formed a three-member committee to review the criteria for EWS reservations. The committee comprised Former Finance Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey, Member Secretary of the Indian Council of Social Science Research Prof V.K. Malhotra, and Principal Economic Advisor to the union government Sanjeev Sanyal.

The Committee, in its report, rendered the findings that the threshold of ₹8 lakh of annual family income, in the current situation, seems reasonable for determining EWS. It is recommended to the Government that the current gross annual family income limit for EWS of ₹8.00 lakh or less may be retained. It added that the EWS may, however, exclude, irrespective of income, a person whose family has 5 acres of agricultural land and above. At the same time, the Committee recommended removing criteria that excluded some categories from EWS: owners of residential properties of 1,000 sq ft and above; residential plots of 100 sq yards and above in notified municipalities; and residential plots of 200 sq yards and above in areas other than the notified municipalities. It suggested removing the residential asset criteria altogether.

Importantly, the Committee recommended that for the ongoing admission processes, the existing criteria should continue and the criteria recommended by it should be made applicable from the next advertisement/admission cycle. The union government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on December 31 last year informing the Court that it had accepted the recommendation of the Committee.

It is in this background, various senior counsel and advocates for different parties made arguments. The same can be read here.

Click here to read the order