The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the constitutional validity of 27 per cent reservation for OBC (other backward classes) and 10 per cent for EWS (economically weaker sections) categories for admission to medical courses for this year and allowed resumption of NEET-PG counselling.
The Rs 8 lakh income criteria to identify EWS beneficiaries has also been allowed for this year.
A detailed hearing on EWS reservation and identifying criteria will be held in the third week of March, the court said, adding it will consider the validity of EWS quotas at the time.
These admissions will be subject to the final judgement of the Supreme Court.
In the previous hearing, held last week, the government told the court existing criteria to identify EWS beneficiaries would be retained for this academic year.
The government said changing norms at this time – when admissions and allocation of colleges for NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) students are ongoing – will lead to complications.
Revised norms could be applied from next year, the government said.
The revised criteria retains the contentious Rs 8 lakh annual income ceiling but excludes families with agricultural land of five acres or more, irrespective of income.
The affidavit was in response to the court asking the government why it had settled on an annual income of less than Rs 8 lakh – which is the same standard used to determine the ‘creamy layer’ among OBCs – to identify potential EWS beneficiaries among the all-India quota.
The government had earlier argued that the Rs 8 lakh annual income criteria was consistent with Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution.
However, a bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud was unconvinced. “You must have some demographic or socio-economic data. You can’t just pluck the 8 million figure out of thin air,” Justice Chandrachud said.
The row over the EWS quota issue has impacted NEET admissions, so much so that junior doctors in the national capital last week launched a 14-day protest against the delays.
The doctors accused the government of dragging its feet on this issue and warned of serious consequences for the country’s healthcare, particularly in light of the Covid pandemic.
NEET-PG admissions, now that they have been cleared, will see about 50,000 MBBS doctors joining the healthcare workforce – a timely boost given the worrying surge in Covid cases and the number of resident doctors who have been infected over the past few days.