SC permits Tamil Nadu to allocate 50 per cent super-speciality medical seats to in-service candidates

New Delhi, Mar 16 (PTI) In a major relief to Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court on Wednesday permitted it to continue with the counselling for 2021-22 to allocate 50 per cent super-specialty seats in government medical colleges to National Eligibility cum Entrance Test [NEET]-qualified in-service candidates.
A bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai vacated its interim order of November 27, 2020, by which it had directed that the counselling for admission to super-specialty medical courses for the academic year 2020- 2021 shall proceed without providing a 50 per cent quota to in-service doctors.

“We are of the view that no case is made out for continuing the interim protection which was granted for the academic year 2020-2021 … and thus, we reject the prayer in that regard. Needless to say that the state of Tamil Nadu would be at liberty to continue the counselling for the academic year 2021-2022 by taking into consideration the reservation provided by it as per the said GO”, Justice Gavai, writing the judgement, said.It then ordered a listing of a batch of petitions for further hearing after Holi vacation from Thursday.

The verdict discussed in detail the two constitution bench judgements of the Supreme Court, cited by the rival parties, in support of their opposite claims, in the cases of Dr. Preeti Srivastava vs. State of Madhya Pradesh (1999) and Tamil Nadu Medical Officers Association vs. Union of India (2020) respectively.

“We are faced with a challenge as to which of these two Constitution Bench judgements should guide us while considering the question, as to whether the interim protection as was granted for the academic year 2020-2021 also needs to be continued or not for the academic year 2021-2022”, the bench said in its 25-page verdict.

It said the issue involved in the Preeti Srivastava judgement was whether a relaxation can be provided, concerning minimum qualifying marks, to the reserved category candidates in admissions in medical courses as it may result in a huge disparity of qualifying marks between reserved and general category students.

This judgement was relied upon by those against the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to grant 50 per cent seats to in-service doctors.

As against this, in the case of Tamil Nadu Medical Officers Association, a direct question as to whether the State was competent to provide reservation by a separate channel for in-service candidates seeking admission to post-graduate degree/diploma medical courses was permissible or not, fell for consideration…

“[T]he constitution bench has held that insofar as admission to postgraduate courses are concerned, it is within the competence of the State Legislature to do so,” the verdict said.

The Supreme Court accepted the submissions of the Tamil Nadu government, represented by Additional Advocate General Amit Anand Tiwari, and said the facts of the case were closer to the constitution bench verdict in Tamil Nadu Medical Officers Association in which it was decided that the state is competent to provide for entry through the separate channel for its in-service doctors.

“We are, therefore, of the considered view that taking into consideration the principles of judicial discipline and judicial propriety, we should be guided by the judgement of the Constitution Bench in the case of Tamil Nadu Medical Officers Association … rather than the judgment of the Constitution Bench in the case of Dr. Preeti Srivastava…”, it said.

The Supreme Court, on March 14, had reserved an order on the pleas challenging the Tamil Nadu government decision allocating 50 per cent super-specialty seats in government medical colleges to NEET-qualified in-service candidates.

The state government had vehemently defended the government order [GO] of 2020 by which it had directed that 50 per cent of the Super Specialty seats (DM/M.Ch.) in Government Medical Colleges are allocated to NEET qualified in-service candidates of Tamil Nadu, and the remaining 50 per cent seats are allocated to the Government of India/Director General of Health Services.

“It is trite that allocation of seats for in-service candidates is not in the nature of a reservation but is a separate source of admission; secondly, the state is empowered to provide for such separate source of admission which is a policy decision to serve a larger public interest, and the same, in no way, compromises the minimum standards prescribed by the Central legislation”, the state government had argued.

The Tamil Nadu government had said the prescribing of quota for in-service candidates is a separate source of entry and not a reservation, and it serves the laudable purpose sought to be achieved by making special provisions for such doctors who would be then available for serving in rural areas.

Taking away the power of the state to provide for sources of admission would violate the federal structure and lead to complete centralization of policy-making in areas where the state is competent to make laws and policy, it had said, adding that in the present case, public health and hospitals are covered by Entry 6, List II (state list) in the Constitution.

As many as six petitions against the GO of the state government are pending adjudication in the top court.

Click here to view the Supreme Court’s order.