This decision, detailed reasons for which could not be penned by a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna because of the paucity of time, would pave way for the resumption of counselling for 15% AIQ seats under NEET-UG (MBBS courses) and 50% AIQ seats under NEET-PG (MD) for the academic year 2021-22, which was stalled since October 25.
The bench accepted the Ajay Bhushan Pandey committee‘s recommendation for not tinkering with the existing criteria for identification of EWS candidates, which was notified in January 2019, for the admissions to UG and PG medical courses for 2021-22.
However, it said that the Rs 8 lakh annual income criteria for identifying EWS candidates remained a contentious issue and that it would undertake in the third week of March detailed scrutiny of the existing as well as the tweaked criteria recommended by the Pandey Committee, which had submitted its report on December 31 and has since been accepted by the Centre.
DMK, which had remained in the forefront for 27% OBC reservation in all India quota medical seats, through senior advocate P Wilson had passionately argued for retaining the OBC quota on the ground that ‘marks cannot always be an indicator of merit”. Wilson Friday congratulated Justices Chandrachud and Bopanna for rendering a historic social justice judgment.
The Centre through solicitor general Tushar Mehta had informed the court about the pitfalls in changing the EWS criteria at this late stage and assured that the general category candidates’ interests had been unharmed as the government has increased the seats in all medical colleges by 25%. It was the single most important point that persuaded the bench to sustain the EWS quota and the existing determinant criteria for the 2021-22 academic year.
Justice Chandrachud, the author of the order, pronounced: “The validity of the OBC reservation in the AIQ seats in NEET-PG and NEET-UG is upheld for reasons to follow. In the meantime, there is an urgent need to commence the process of Counselling. We are hence issuing the following operative directions at this stage :
* We accept the recommendation of the Pandey Committee that the criteria which have been stipulated in the Office Memorandum of 2019 be used for 2021-2022 in order to ensure that the admission process is not dislocated;
* Counselling on the basis of NEET-PG 2021 and NEET- UG 2021 shall be conducted by giving effect to the reservation as provided by the notice dated July 29, 2021, including the 27% reservation for the OBC category and 10% reservation for the EWS category in the AIQ seats;
* The criteria for the determination of the EWS notified by OM 2019 shall be used for identifying the EWS category for candidates who appeared for the NEET-PG 2021 and NEET-UG 2021examinations;
* The validity of the criteria determined by the Pandey Committee for identification of EWS, to be applied prospectively for the future, would be subject to the final result of the petitions.
The challenge to the OBC quota and EWS criteria was challenged by candidates who had appeared for the NEET-PG examination. They have challenged the July 29, 2021 notification of Directorate General of Health Services implemented 27% OBC reservation and 10% EWS quota is filling up 15% undergraduate and 50% post-graduate All India Quota seats in pursuance of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) from the admission year 2021-2022.
On October 25, because of the pendency of the petitions and the searing questions from the SC on the rationale behind Rs 8 lakh annual income criteria for identification of EWS quota, the Centre had deferred the counselling process and set up Pandey Committee on November 30 to revisit the criteria. The Pandey committee gave its report on December 31 and was accepted by the Centre.
The SC, which had heard detailed arguments from petitioners as well as the government and also on behalf of OBC candidates, got just 18 hours to prepare its interim order between 4.30 pm on Thursday to 10.30 am on Friday. It said the detailed arguments would be dealt with in an elaborate order later.