The Supreme Court on Thursday shot a volley of questions at the Centre, seeking an explanation for fixing Rs 8 Lakh as income criterion for the economically weaker section (EWS) category to claim reservation in All India Quota seats in NEET examinations.
A bench headed by justice D.Y. Chandrachud asked Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj: "What is the reason for fixing Rs 8 lakh income criterion? You have to demonstrate, what was the data before you?"
The bench, also comprising justices Vikram Nath and BV Nagarathna asked how this income criterion could be applied uniformly across the country.
Justice Chandrachud further queried: "Have you looked at the GDP per capita of every state and then devised this economic criterion... What exercise did you undertake for reaching Rs 8 lakh figure."
Citing the difference between standard of living in a metropolitan city and a remote village, the bench said people living in Mumbai and Bengaluru with the same annual earning cannot be compared with somebody living in Bundelkhand.
Nataraj submitted before the bench that implementing reservation was a policy matter. The bench said: "You just can't say it is a matter of policy when we are asking what the basis of Rs 8 lakh for EWS eligibility is."
The Centre's counsel submitted that the same criterion of Rs 8 lakh was there for determining the creamy layer under the OBC quota. He added that in 2015, it was Rs 6.5 lakh, and in 2017 it was increased to Rs 8 lakh.
The bench reiterated what was the exercise undertaken to arrive at the Rs 8 lakh figure, or this criterion was merely mechanically lifted from the criterion applicable to OBC?
Nataraj contended that to arrive at this decision, there was deliberation and proper noting, which was approved by the Cabinet. However, the Bench was not content with his answer and pointed out that in the matter at hand it is dealing with pure economic backwardness.
The bench further said: "The notification specifically adverts to Rs 8 lakh. Now you have an Office Memorandum of January 17 which combines Rs 8 lakh with assets."
It further queried, "Is the Centre applying the asset cum income requirement?" Nataraj sought time to file an affidavit to address the queries put forth by the bench.
During the hearing, the bench pointed out in Indra Sawhney judgment (Mandal case), those who were below the Rs 8 lakh income segment, filled the criteria of educational, social and economic backwardness. The top court has scheduled the matter for further hearing on October 20.
The top court made these observations while hearing a clutch of petitions by Neil Aurelio Nunes and others against the 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) and 10 per cent reservation for EWS in all-India Quota seats for postgraduate medical courses.
As many as 15 per cent seats in MBBS and 50 per cent seats in MS and MD courses are filled through All India Quota from the candidates selected through NEET.
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