The Centre on Thursday told the Supreme Court that the counselling for the NEET post-graduate medical courses will be further postponed by four weeks as it has decided to revisit rupees eight lakh annual income criteria for determining the EWS category for reservation in the admissions.
The government told the top court that a committee would be constituted to ascertain the criteria and the exercise would be completed in four weeks.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant, and Vikram Nath was informed by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that a committee will be constituted to determine the criteria scientifically for the EWS category.
The bench recorded the submission and said, “Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General, who appears on behalf of the Union of India with K M Nataraj, ASG states that the Union government has taken a considered decision to revisit the criteria for determining the economically weaker sections in terms of the provisions of the explanation to Article 15 of the Constitution inserted by the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act 2019”.
The top court also recorded the submission, “a period of four weeks would be required for this exercise and pending its conclusion, the date for counselling shall stand postponed because of the assurance which was tendered at an earlier stage of these proceedings”.
The apex court was hearing a batch of pleas filed by Students challenging the Centre and Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) July 29 notice providing 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Class and 10 per cent for EWS category in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET-PG) admissions for medical courses for the current academic year.
Justice Kant said, "the EWS quota is a very enabling and progressive kind of reservation and all States should support the Centre in its endeavour".
The bench said that the only question is that determination of the category should be in a scientific manner and it appreciates that the Centre has taken a decision to revisit the criteria earlier fixed.
Senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for petitioners (students), said since a lot of time has passed and Centre should push back implementation of the EWS quota for the next academic year and the current year counselling should be allowed to go on.
The bench agreed with the submission of Datar and asked Mehta whether it could push the implementation of the constitutional amendment for the next academic year and allow the counselling to go on for the current academic year.
Mehta said that the government has taken a decision to implement the 103rd constitutional amendment from the current academic year and pushing back would not be appropriate and it should be a last resort.
He said that if the determination is done earlier than four weeks then it will inform the court.
The bench told Datar that four weeks is not unreasonable and it doesn't want to push the government to do it earlier otherwise the criteria would be fixed in an unscientific and haphazard manner.
Advocate Shashank Ratnoo, appearing on behalf of some OBC candidates, requested that the application of reservation to OBC students should not be deferred as the Centre is planning to revisit the EWS criteria.
The bench said that it has not said anything about OBC students and is not disposing of the petition.
It then recorded the submission of Mehta and posted the matter for further hearing on January 6.
On October 25, the Centre had assured the top court that the counselling process of NEET-PG examination will not commence till the top court decides the challenge to 27 per cent reservation for OBC and 10 per cent for EWS category in PG All India Quota seats (MBBS/BDS and MD/MS/MDS) from the current academic year 2021-22.
The assurance by the Centre had come after some students mentioned before the court that as per the schedule announced by the Director-General of Health Services, the counselling process for the NEET-PG is to commence from October 25.
On October 21, the top court had asked the Centre whether it would like to revisit the limit of rupees eight lakh annual income fixed for determining the EWS category for reservation in NEET PG admissions and sought answers to some pin-pointed questions on the issue.
The top court had clarified that it is not embarking into the policy domain but is only trying to ascertain whether constitutional principles have adhered or not.
It had asked the Centre whether any exercise was undertaken before fixing a limit of Rs 8 lakh annual income for determining the EWS category and whether Major Gen (retd) SR Sinho commission report of 2010 was considered before ascertaining the criteria?
Major Gen (retd) SR Sinho commission was constituted by the UPA government in 2010 and has recommended welfare measures for the EWS category including reservation to them.
The Centre had said that the commission's report was one of the basis for determining the criteria but after that several deliberations were held and other factors were also taken into account.
It had asked the Centre to respond to a question that since the income limit of determining the creamy layer in OBC category and EWS is the same Rs 8 lakh, whether it would be arbitrary to provide a similar income limit for EWS and OBC.
The bench had said that as per the explanation in the 103rd constitution amendment the criteria for EWS have to be notified by the state governments, so how can the Centre notify a uniform EWS criterion for the whole of the country.