The Supreme Court on Monday refused to entertain a plea seeking clarification on the applicability of Economically Weaker Section (EWS) criteria of Rs 8 lakh in NEET-PG 2022-23 saying it is seized of the matter and whatever it decides will be applicable.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant said, “We have not stalled the process of determining the EWS criteria for next academic year. We have said EWS quota will be as per our order. We have kept the matter in March for disposal. The process cannot stop. Whatever we will decide will apply”. It allowed the writ petition filed by one Varun Dileepbhai Bhatt and others but granted liberty to file an intervention application in the pending matter. Senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for the students, said that they need clarification on the applicability of the EWS criteria as same norms are applied for the next academic year. Advocate Charu Mathur, also appearing for the students, said the petitioners have sought an extension of the deadline for edit option in the online forms with respect to the EWS norms. The bench said it cannot grant any such extension of the edit window and if the authorities have taken a call, then it should be as it is. “Whatever happens in the matter, it will govern, because that’s our jurisdiction under Article 32,” it said. Mathur said the authorities have not mentioned in the prospectus about the case pending before the top court. The bench said that why should the prospectus mention so and added, “When the Supreme Court is seized of the matter, it will give directions”. The bench also refused to advance the listing of the main matter saying it is listed in the third week of March.
The plea has contended that it would be unfair to accept the candidates to choose EWS category as per the criteria set out in the Office Memorandum of 2019, when the issue is sub-judice before the top court. The MBBS doctors, who have filed the plea sought direction to the Centre to specify in the information bulletin that the EWS criteria for academic session 2022-23 would be decided in terms of the pleas challenging the amended reservation policy (27 per cent OBC and 10 per cent) in the All India Quota for the NEET. They have also prayed for extending the date for Edit Window from February 11, 2022 and to enable the candidates to choose EWS category after the final decision in the pending matter.
On January 20, in its reasoned order, the top court had said merit cannot be reduced to narrow definitions of performance in an open competitive examination which only provides formal equality of opportunity, as it upheld 27 per cent Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservation in All India Quota (AIQ) seats in the NEET for UG and PG medical courses.
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Justifying allowing quota for EWS on existing quota for the current academic year, the bench had said, “We are still in the midst of the pandemic and any delay in the recruitment of doctors would impact the ability to manage the pandemic. Hence, it is necessary to avoid any further delays in the admission process and allow counselling to begin immediately”. On the EWS quota, the top court had said that it is a settled principle of law that in matters involving a challenge to the constitutionality of 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, while listing the matter in the third week of March said, “as a result, we allow the implementation of EWS reservation in AIQ seats in NEET UG and PG seats for the academic year of 2021-2022. The EWS category shall be identified in view of the criteria in Office Memorandum of 2019”.
On January 7, the top court had paved the way for starting the stalled NEET-PG 2021 counselling process based on the existing 27 per cent OBC and 10 per cent EWS reservations in the All India Quota seats, saying there is an ”urgent need” to begin the admission process.
The Centre had constituted a three-member committee, comprising Ajay Bhushan Pandey, former finance secretary, VK Malhotra, member secretary, ICSSR, and Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Adviser to Centre to revisit the criteria for determining EWS.
The committee in its report submitted on December 31 last year to the Centre said, ”The current gross annual family income limit for EWS of Rs 8 lakh or less may be retained. In other words, only those families whose annual income is up to Rs 8 lakh would be eligible to get the benefit of EWS reservation.” The Centre has said it decided to accept the recommendations of the panel to retain the current gross annual family income limit for defining EWS at Rs 8 lakh or less.
It also told the court that according to the panel, family income is a ”feasible criterion” for defining EWS, and in the current situation, a threshold of Rs 8 lakh seems reasonable for the purpose.