The Supreme Court has permitted counseling to be held in NEET-PG and UG courses by upholding the existing 27% OBC and 10% EWS quota. It, however, ordered that in the future, the validity of the EWS criteria as laid down by the Pandey Committee must be adhered to.
The apex court listed the batch of petitions in the matter for hearing in March third week.
Appearing for some of the candidates yesterday, senior advocate Arvind Datar had said that if the apex court intended to allow EWS reservation in NEET-AIQ this year, it should be based on Rs 2.5 lakh annual income criteria as recommended by Major Gen (retd) SR Sinho Commission and not the Rs 8 lakh gross annual income limit fixed by the union government.
The Supreme Court said the validity of the EWS criteria, determined by the Pandey Committee, would prospectively for the future be subject to the final result of the petitions in the court challenging the criteria for such identification. The criteria for determination of EWS category, as notified in January 2019, shall be used for used for identifying candidates who had appeared for NEET-UG and NEET-PG for academic session 2021-22, it said.
The counselling for NEET-UG and NEET-PG shall be conducted as per the government notification of 29 July 2021, stipulating 27% OBC and 10% EWS quotas in the all india quota medical seats, the Supreme Court said.
The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna ruled, “The validity of OBC reservation in NEET-UG and NEET-PG is upheld. There is (an) urgent need to commence the process of counselling.”
“We accept the recommendations of the (Ajay Bhushan) Pandey Committee that the EWS criteria notified in 2019 should be used for admissions to NEET-PG for the academic session 2021-22,” the bench said.
Before the verdict was pronounced, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta justified the application of Rs 8 lakh income criterion for the EWS category. He said the decision was arrived at after due deliberation by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. “The submission that OBC reservation is unconstitutional is legally unsustainable,” he stressed.
The Constitution (One Hundred and Third) Amendment Act introducing EWS quota came into force on 14 January 2019. On 17 January that year, the government released an official memorandum (OM) informing that families earning a gross annual income below Rs 8 lakh would be identified as EWS for benefit of reservation.
“The Amendment came on 14 January. On 17 January, the OM comes… So the whole process of consultation, discussion, etc, with Social Justice Ministry was completed and everything was done by 17 January?” Justice Chandrachud had asked Solicitor-General Mehta yesterday.
The union government had told the Supreme Court yeaterday that the introduction of OBC and EWS reservations after the issuance of NEET-PG exam notification did not amount to “changing the rules of the game” midway.
Mehta said the Rs 8 lakh limit was derived after study. “It was not an unstudied position,” the top law officer maintained.
The bench then pointed to an affidavit filed by the government in October last, which revealed that the Rs 8 lakh threshold was “largely based” on the criterion to identify the creamy lawyer in OBC quota.
The court said this earlier position in October was quite contrary to the later conclusions of the government’s own expert committee headed by former Finance Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey in December.
The committee, formed by the government to review the Rs 8 lakh limit, in its report on 31 December, maintained that the Rs 8 lakh threshold fixed to identify EWS was not a “mechanical adoption” of the OBC creamy layer cut-off.
Justice Chandrachud remarked, “The review committee seems to be just trying to justify the Rs 8 lakh limit post facto… They have done their best to justify the Rs 8 lakh limit”.
Justice Chandrachud, however, moments before rising for the day, said it was in national interest that NEET counselling should continue. “In national interest, counselling has to begin,” he stated.