Let Counselling Begin: Centre To Supreme Court Over NEET-PG Admissions

Let Counselling Begin: Centre To Supreme Court Over NEET-PG Admissions

The question being asked is how the Centre arrived at the Rs 8 lakh income criteria

New Delhi:

The Centre told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that it would not accept a position whereby those falling in the OBC or the EWS category, whether before or after the exercise of revisiting the criterion of Rs 8 lakh annual income, are deprived of something that is legitimately due to them.

It urged the court to let the stalled NEET-PG counselling be allowed to go on as the demand of resident doctors is genuine and the country needs new doctors, even when the matter of the validity of the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quota is under adjudication.

The NEET-PG candidates, who had challenged a July 29, 2021 notification for the implementation of the OBC and the EWS quotas from the 2021-22 academic year, opposed the government’s justification of applying the Rs 8 lakh income criteria, saying no study has been conducted.

A bench of justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna said the hearing in the matter would continue on Thursday, after which it will pass some orders.

Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said, “We, as a government, would request the court that we would not accept any position whereby OBC or EWS, whether pre or post the exercise, is deprived of something that is legitimately due to them.” He said the notification for the quota dates back to January, 2019 and the EWS reservation has already been applied to many appointments and admissions.

“We are at a point where counselling is stuck. We need doctors during these times. We are ready to assist the court on the report but we cannot go into lengthy arguments. Like in any report, any intelligent mind can point out errors in the report. The question, however, would be whether the criteria for the poor is over inclusive and I can satisfy this court on the issue.

“Let the counselling get started. Let that stage be over. At that time, we did not know that this situation would come. This is a genuine demand of resident doctors. In the meantime, let your lordships consider the objections,” Mr Mehta said.

He also said a committee comprising the former finance secretary of the government, the member-secretary of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and the principal economic advisor to the Centre was formed, which submitted its report on December 31.

Appearing for some of the candidates, senior advocate Shyam Divan said they have already argued the matter before the bench and if the court wants, they can do so again.

He said they have challenged the July 29 notification because once the notice for examination was issued in February-March last year, the rules of the game could not be changed in between.

Appearing for the petitioner candidates, senior advocate Arvind Datar said they have a lot to say on the Centre’s justification for accepting the committee’s recommendation to retain the Rs 8 lakh income criteria.

He said since the examination was held according to the old system (without the OBC and EWS quotas), the court can allow the NEET-PG counselling to go on in accordance with the old system for the current academic year.

Mr Divan said the rules cannot be changed once the game starts and in this case, the notification was issued on July 29 directing the implementation of the 27 per cent reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and the 10 per cent quota for the EWS category from the 2021-22 academic year.

He said the impact of this will be that 2,500 seats that were available to the general category will be taken away.

Mr Datar said his argument is confined to the EWS criterion and pointed out that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment came out with a notification for 10 per cent EWS reservation on January 17, 2019 and in a span of three days, had announced the Rs 8 lakh annual income criterion for the determination of EWS.

He said in its report, the three-member committee refers to various reports but does not talk about a study as to how it arrived at the Rs 8 lakh income criteria.

Mr Datar pointed out that this is not only about NEET-PG as this criterion, which is without any study, will apply to admissions all over India, to all central institutions like IITs and other educational institutions.

The bench asked Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj as to where this criterion is being applied, to which he said in all the Centre-run institutions, it has been applied, along with many other institutions.

Mr Datar said the basis of the Rs 8 lakh criterion is arbitrary as a person who can invest Rs 1 lakh in stocks can also fall in the EWS category.

Large-scale protests were held by resident doctors of various hospitals under the banner of the Federation of Resident Doctors’ Association (FORDA) in Delhi and other parts of the country over a delay in the NEET-PG counselling, which has been postponed due to the pendency of the case and the Centre deciding to revisit the criterion for the determination of the EWS quota.

In its affidavit, the Centre has said it has decided to accept the recommendations of the three-member panel to retain the current gross annual family income limit for defining EWS at Rs 8 lakh or less.

It has 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.

It has said the panel has recommended that “only those families whose annual income is up to Rs 8 lakh would be eligible to get the benefit of the EWS reservation”.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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