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‘Reservation not at odds with merit’: SC upholds 27% OBC quota in NEET

By Priyanka Verma 
Updated Date

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday said reservation is not at odds with merit but furthers its distributive impact as it allowed the Centre to provide 27 per cent reservation to OBC and 10 per cent to EWS in All India Quota (AIQ) seats in medical courses.

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“Merit must be contextualised with respect to social and economic background. Role of reservation cannot be negated in remedying backwardness. Reservation is not at odds with merit but furthers the distributive consequences of social justice,” a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna said.

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 cut-off) will apply to the current admission year.

“Judicial intervention at this stage would have delayed admissions for this year. Therefore no stay on reservation criteria for 2021-22 batch. We are still in the midst of a pandemic. Delay in recruitment of doctors would impact pandemic response,” the court said.

It would not be possible to pass order on merits of the policy without hearing all parties with respect to material relied on for reservation, and identification of “poor and poorest”, the bench said.

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Citing Article 15(4) and 15(5), which call for substantive equality, the top court said, “Competitive exams don’t reflect excellence, capabilities of individuals. They do not reflect the social economic and cultural advantage that accrues to some classes.”

The bench also clarified that since reservation and number of seats are not disclosed till after the examination is held, it cannot be said that goalposts of seats have been changed.

The issue of the validity of EWS reservation and eligibility status will be heard by the top court in third week of March.

In an interim order issued on January 7, the Supreme Court allowed resumption of medical counselling for NEET-PG admissions for the year 2021-22. It also upheld the validity of 27 per cent OBC and 10 per cent EWS quotas.

The order pertained to a petition challenging reservation for OBC and EWS introduced by the central government in the All India Quota (AIQ) seats in state government medical institutions.

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In its detailed verdict today, the bench said the scheme of AIQ was devised to allot seats in state-run medical institutions.

“Centre was not required to seek permission of this court before granting reservation in AIQ seats and thus their decision was correct. We hold that reservations for OBC in AIQ for undergraduate and post graduate courses is constitutionally valid,” the order stated.

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