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Reservation not at odds with merit: SC upholds OBC quota in NEET admission

The bench clarified it could not be said goalposts of seats had been changed, as the reservation and number of seats were not disclosed until the examination

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The Supreme Court today upheld its 7 January order that allowed reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the NEET and postgraduate admissions for 2021-22, noting that high scores cannot be the sole criteria for merit.

“Merit must be contextualised with respect to (the) social and economic background. (The) role of reservation cannot be negated in remedying backwardness. Reservation is not at odds with merit but furthers the distributive consequences of social justice,” a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna said.

The court said that there would be no stay on the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) criterion for admission to NEET-PG and the existing criteria (Rs 8 lakh gross annual income cut-off) will apply to the current admission year.

“Judicial intervention at this stage would have delayed admissions for this year. Therefore no stay on reservation criteria for (the) 2021-22 batch. We are still in the midst of a pandemic. Delay in (the) recruitment of doctors would impact pandemic response,” the court said.

It will not be possible to pass order on merits of the policy without hearing all parties with respect to material relied on for reservation, and identification of “poor and poorest”, the bench said.

Citing Articles 15(4) and 15(5) that call for substantive equality, the Supreme Court said, “Competitive exams don’t reflect excellence, capabilities of individuals. They do not reflect the social economic and cultural advantage that accrues to some classes.”

The bench also clarified that it could not be said that goalposts of seats had thus been changed, as the reservation and number of seats were not disclosed till after the examination is held.

The issue of the validity of EWS reservation and eligibility status will be heard by the top court in third week of March.

In an interim order issued on 7 January, the Supreme Court allowed resumption of medical counselling for NEET-PG admissions for the year 2021-22. It also upheld the validity of 27 per cent OBC and 10% EWS quotas.

The order pertains to a petition challenging reservation for OBC and EWS introduced by the union government in the All India Quota (AIQ) seats in state government medical institutions.

In its detailed verdict today, the Supreme Court said the scheme of AIQ had been devised to allot seats in state-run medical institutions.

“Centre was not required to seek permission of this court before granting reservation in AIQ seats and thus their decision was correct. We hold that reservations for OBC in AIQ for and post graduate courses is constitutionally valid,” the order stated.

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