FPJ Legal | 'Reservation is not at odds with merit': SC upholds OBC quota in medical courses

FPJ News Service | Updated on: Friday, January 21, 2022, 08:34 AM IST

Supreme Court  | PTI
Supreme Court | PTI

Observing that reservation is not at odds with merit but furthers the distributive impact of social justice, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld its January 7 order allowing reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the NEET undergraduate and postgraduate admissions for 2021-22. High scores are not the sole criteria for merit, which must be seen in the context of social and economic background.

Therefore, the role of reservation cannot be negated in remedying backwardness, a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna concluded. The court also observed that the definition of merit cannot be narrowed down to performance in competitive exams; the merit of a person was a sum of “lived experiences” and his or her struggle to overcome cultural and social setbacks.

Open competitive examinations only provide formal equality of opportunities but are not reflective of excellence, capability and potential of an individual, Justice Chandrachud said.

The court also reasoned that the affluence of certain individual members of a socially backward group or ‘creamy layer’ could not be used against the entire group to deny it the benefits of reservation. “It may be that individual members of an identified group which are being given reservation are not backward or individuals belonging to non-identified group may share characteristics of a backward group with members of an identified group.

The individual difference may be a result of privilege, fortune and circumstances but it cannot be used to negate the role of circumstances,” the court explained.

The Supreme Court also clarified that the Central Government was not required to seek the permission of the court to reserve seats in All India Quota.

However, providing reservation in the AIQ seats is a policy decision of the Government, which will be subject to the contours of judicial review similar to every reservation policy,the order stated. The court also pronounced that there will be no stay on the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) criteria for admission to NEET-PG and the existing criteria (Rs 8 lakh gross annual income cutoff) will apply to the current admission year. ‘‘Any change in the eligibility status for reservation at this stage would have caused confusion and led to possible litigation challenging such a change. This would have only caused further delay.

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.

As a result, we allow the implementation of EWS reservation AIQ seats in NEET UG and PG seats for the academic year of 2021-2022," the top court reasoned. These observations are part of a detailed order passed by the court.

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Published on: Thursday, January 20, 2022, 01:53 PM IST