The Supreme Court today reserved its order on the EWS (Economically Weaker Section) quota for NEET postgraduate counselling 2021 but said that the counselling must begin in national interest. The Apex Court has asked the petitioners to file a short note of their reply by Friday morning.
NEET PG Counselling was delayed after a plea was filed in the apex court against the Centre’s decision to revisit the criteria for determining the EWS quota in the All India Quota. The case relates to petitions challenging reservation for OBC and EWS introduced by the Central government in the AIQ seats in State government medical institutions.
The petitioners have challenged the 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) and 10 per cent reservation for EWS in All-India Quota (AIQ) seats for postgraduate medical courses. The petitioners have demanded that the counselling process be held without implementing the July 29 government order introducing OBC and EWS quota.
Resident doctors of various hospitals under the banner of the Federation of Resident Doctors’ Association (FORDA) protested in Delhi and other parts of the country over the delay in the counselling session.
During the hearing today, the Central government suggested that any revised criteria should be made applicable prospectively and the present admission should be held as per the existing criteria.
The government also defended the OBC reservation as well as the Rs eight lakh income criterion for determining EWS (Economically Weaker Sections)
One of the aspects the Court is specifically examining is the feasibility of having Rs eight lakh as a cap for eligibility to avail the EWS quota in postgraduate medical admissions.
A Bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice A.S. Bopanna observed that it has to pronounce an order taking into account “national interest” and NEET counselling has to begin in view of the same. “We have been hearing this for two days, we must start counselling in national interest,” Justice Chandrachud remarked before the Bench rose.
During the hearing today, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar appearing for the petitioner, submitted that there was no proper assessment done to arrive at the figure of ₹8 lakh annual income as the criterion for determining economic backwardness. “Income criteria of ₹8 lakh is arbitrary, assets criteria is even worse. 5 acres of agricultural land- keeping national limit of 5 acre is completely wrong. In Kerala it’s impossible to have 5 acres of land due to population density. There is no answer on what basis is this arrived at. (Values of) residential flats in Bombay, Chennai are so different,” Datar said.
He said that the limit should be kept to 2.5 lakh for this year’s counselling.
“Rs eight lakh is completely arbitrary. You Lordships may direct ₹2.5 lakh should be limit for this year for today’s counselling. Rest we can see later,’’ Datar said.
During the hearing of the case on October 25, the Central government had assured the Court that the counselling for PG medical courses will not start till the Court decides the matter. The Central government told the Supreme Court on November 25 that it was proposing to revisit the criteria for determining the EWS reservation. It then constituted an expert committee for the same.
The ongoing counselling process for NEET PG courses was put on hold due to the case. This led to protest by doctors in Delhi who demanded expeditious hearing of the case and completion of counselling and admission process as early as possible.
The Centre filed an affidavit before the top court on January 1, stating that it has decided to stick to the existing criteria of Rs eight lakh annual income limit for determination of EWS reservation with respect to the ongoing admissions to the NEET PG courses.
The Centre informed the top court that the expert committee constituted by the government suggested that the existing criteria may be continued for ongoing admissions and the revised criteria suggested by it could be adopted from the next admission cycle.
Senior Advocate Anand Grover also agreed with Datar’s submission that the ₹8 lakh criterion is arbitrary. “The Rs eight lakh limit allows the creamy layer to come in too. The economically weaker section criteria of nutrition, landlessness, employment etc is completely ignored,’’ he said.
Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, representing resident doctors said that the decision on EWS criteria can wait and what needs to be done on priority is to ensure that counselling starts immediately. “The counselling has to start immediately because third year residents are about to pass out in four months. We’ll be left with 33% of workforce. With the third wave coming, we need doctors. The eight lakh or five lakh limit can be looked at later,” he said.
“That’s a valid point you’re making, not only for the doctors but also the citizens,” the Bench remarked.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Central government urged the Apex Court to allow counselling to go on.
He submitted that there is no straitjacket formula for determining economic backwardness.
He defended the Rs eight lakh income criterion stating that “no single indicator can capture poverty.”
“The determination of EWS doesn’t suffer from over inclusiveness,” he said maintaining that the exercise is not to determine those who are “poor”. We are not finding out who is poor. The word used is economically weaker. It doesn’t need to be Below Poverty Line (BPL), it can be slightly above poverty line. We are not looking at poor but EWS. even while framing the income tax limit, the government tends to be inclusive and even includes those who they deem to have savings,” the Solicitor General added.