EWS quota in NEET-PG admissions: Govt response shows no study before fixing Rs 8L limit, SC told

PETITIONERS WHO have challenged the Rs 8 lakh annual income criteria for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) reservation in NEET-PG (All India Quota) told Supreme Court on Wednesday that the Centre’s fresh report “justifying” the income limit was an admission that no study had been conducted before the ceiling was fixed in 2019.

“They are justifying the Rs 8 lakh limit and we have much to say about this…The fundamental question is has any exercise been undertaken. Now in this affidavit they admit that no exercise was undertaken. Only now they undertook,” Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for some of the petitioners, told a bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud.

He was referring to the affidavit filed on December 31 last year in which the Centre said it had decided to accept prospectively recommendations of a committee appointed by it to retain the annual income limit at Rs 8 lakh for the EWS quota for NEET-PG (All India Quota) for the current admission cycle, and to adopt recommendations on how to apply the income limit from the next admission cycle.

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Datar said the office memorandum laying down the Rs 8 lakh criteria was issued on January 17, 2019, just a few days after the Constitution 103rd amendment that introduced EWS reservation. “So in a span of a few days, they announced EWS criteria with property criteria…,” he told the bench also comprising Justice A S Bopanna, adding that no discussion was undertaken before fixing the EWS income ceiling.

“They did not put on record [before the court] any study or anything on how they arrived at the Rs 8 lakh… no application of mind,” he said. “The present report justifies this, but there is no study. All will be affected by this and it was done without any study.”

The petitions have challenged the July 29 notification of the Medical Counseling Committee providing 27 per cent OBC reservation and 10 per cent EWS reservation.

Datar said counseling for the current year’s NEET-PG admissions, which remains suspended due to pendency of the case, be carried on with the “old system”.

In its December 31 affidavit, the Centre urged the court to allow counseling as per the existing Rs 8 lakh criteria, saying it has been in operation since 2019 and disturbing it now “would create more complications than expected both for the beneficiaries as well as for the authorities”.

Appearing for the Centre on Wednesday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta thanked the court at the very outset, saying it is only because of its intervention that this exercise was carried out. “And you were correct that it was required,” he submitted, adding that the government had appointed a three-member committee comprising former Finance Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey, Member Secretary ICSSR V K Malhotra and Principal Economic Advisor to GOI Sanjeev Sanyal to check the feasibility of the Rs 8 lakh limit.

Urging the court to allow the government to start the counseling process, he said the petitioners have come to the court only now when the fact was that the notification was out on January 17, 2019 and implemented throughout the country for several employment and admissions.

The arguments remained inconclusive and will resume Thursday.

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