March 24, 2023

merit: Scores don’t reflect merit, says Supreme Court, upholds OBC quota | India News – Times of India

NEW DELHI: Settling the perennial merit vs quota debate while upholding reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the intensely competitive all-India quota (AIQ) medical seats, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that scores in entrance tests do not reflect the social, economic and cultural advantage that accrues to certain classes and contributes to their success in such examinations.
Rejecting the challenge to the constitutional validity of 27% OBC quota in the sought-after AIQ seats in MBBS and MD courses, a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna said, “Merit can’t be reduced to narrow definitions of performance in an open competitive exam which only provides formal equality of opportunity.” “High scores in an exam are not a proxy for merit. Merit should be socially contextualised… as an instrument that advances social goods like equality. In such a context, reservation is not at odds with merit but furthers its distributive consequences,” the bench said.
Writing the judgment, Justice Chandrachud said, “Competitive exams assess basic current competency to allocate educational resources but are not reflective of excellence, capabilities and potential of an individual which are also shaped by lived experiences, subsequent training and individual character. Crucially, open competitive exams do not reflect the social, economic and cultural advantage that accrues to certain classes and contributes to their success in such exams.”
The bench said the 10% EWS quota for undergraduate and postgraduate medical courses would also continue for the 2021-22 academic year, as judicial propriety would not permit the SC to pass an interim order staying the criteria for determination of the EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) category.
“It is a settled principle of law that in matters involving challenge to the constitutionality of a legislation or a rule, the court must be wary to pass an interim order, unless the court is convinced that the rules are prima facie arbitrary,” the bench said while scheduling the exercise for detailed scrutiny of the constitutional validity of EWS quota to the third week of March.
It said, “At this stage, without hearing all the interested parties on arguments such as (i) extent of judicial review of materials relied on for providing reservation under Article 15; (ii) the power of the states to determine EWS in view of the explanation to Article 15 and in view of an alternative criteria proposed by the committee formed by the government of Kerala; and (iii) the meaning of EWS — the identification of the poor or the poorest, it would be impermissible for us to form a prima facie opinion on the alleged arbitrariness of the criteria.”
Importantly, the SC clarified that the Centre was not required to seek its permission before providing reservation in AIQ seats. “Therefore, providing reservation in the AIQ seats is a policy decision of the government.”
Returning to the debate over merit vs quota, the bench rejected the argument that once an OBC candidate secures an undergraduate AIQ medical seat, he/she should not be entitled to again fall back on his backwardness to secure seat in the AIQ post-graduate medical seat, where merit alone should be the criteria.

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