Day 6 Oral Hearing: OBC/EWS Res for PG NEET

OBC & EWS Reservation in Postgraduate Medical Admissions (PG NEET)

After the sixth day of hurried hearings, the Supreme Court reserved judgment in the challenges to OBC and EWS reservations in postgraduate (PG) medical admissions on December 6th, 2021. Sharing the concerns of protesting resident doctors, the Bench was committed to deciding the case swiftly so that PG admissions may  be completed and the staff shortage at hospitals resolved before the Third Wave peaked. In a judgment anticipated tomorrow, Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna will decide whether and on what basis to permit OBC and EWS reservations in 2021 PG admissions. 

The Union Government’s Expert Committee Report reviewing the ₹ 8 lakhs annual income criteria for EWS reservations dominated the final day of hearings. The Bench appeared convinced by Senior Advocate Arvind Datar’s argument that the Report did not sufficiently explain the basis for the criteria. Chandrachud J expressed concern that the Committee was trying to justify a criteria that the Union Government had devised without reliable data or due application of mind. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union Government, vehemently denied this claim. 

The Bench also heard SG Mehta and Senior Advocates P. Wilson and A. Mariarputham, appearing for the Tamil Nadu Government, in favour of OBC reservations. 

Bench Unconvinced By Expert Committee’s Recommendation of Rs. 8 Lakhs EWS Income Limit

Mr. Datar, appearing for petitioner Neil Aurelio Nunes, argued that if reservations must be permitted in the 2021 admission, the EWS criteria in the Major Sinho Commission Report should  be followed. The Sinho Report had recommended an annual income limit of ₹ 2.5 lakhs based on the non-taxable income limit after consultation with all State governments and relevant stakeholders. Mr. Datar argued that there was no explanation for the Union Government’s sudden shift to ₹ 8 lakhs. He also argued that the new Expert Committee gave no reasons for deviating from the Sinho Report. Accordingly, he urged the Bench to exercise its Article 142 powers to do complete justice and direct the Union Government to adhere to the EWS criteria in the Sinho Report.

SG Mehta argued that even if the Government was ill-advised in choosing one policy over the other, the Court could not intervene unless the Government’s decision was grossly unfair and ignored relevant factors. He assured the Bench that the ₹ 8 lakhs income limit for EWS was not a blind replication of the OBC creamy income criteria. He relied on parts of the Expert Committee Report which show that the Rs. 8 Lakhs criteria was based on sound reasoning. 

The Bench appeared unconvinced by SG Mehta’s arguments. Chandrachud J pointed out that the Union’s first affidavit in the case stated that the ₹ 8 Lakhs income criteria was based on the OBC creamy layer limit. The Bench had previously cautioned against equating OBC and EWS categories. Chandrachud J also questioned the Committee’s findings in support of the jump to ₹ 8 lakhs. 

OBC Reservations Are Supported by Legislation, SC Jurisprudence and the Constitution

The Union Government arguments on OBC reservations in PG admissions got less pushback from the Bench. SG Mehta argued that OBC reservations were provided for by the Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Admission) Act, 2006 and Article 15(5) of the Constitution. Mr. Divan’s challenge to OBC reservations in PG medical admissions would succeed only if he was able to  prove that the 2006 Act and Article 15(5) were unconstitutional. Mr. Mehta argued that Mr. Divan had not advanced any arguments to this effect. 

Senior Advocate P. Wilson, appearing for the DMK Government of Tamil Nadu, supported SG Mehta. He argued that the issues of EWS reservations and OBC reservations could not be equated. While the validity of EWS reservations may be an unsettled question of law, OBC reservations in PG medical degrees had been extensively deliberated on and permitted by the Supreme Court. He also mentioned B.K. Pavitra II, where Chandrachud J held that reservations do not automatically indicate that efficiency is being compromised. Merit, Mr. Wilson argued, was not the same as marks. Hence, Mr. Divan could not claim that OBC reservations in specialized PG courses would hamper efficiency. 

The lawyers for both sides are expected to submit written notes detailing their arguments tomorrow morning. The Bench will deliver its judgment shortly after this. Chandrachud J’s questions to SG Mehta on the EWS criteria indicate that the Court’s past focus on reliable data as the basis for reservation policies is likely to weigh heavily on this judgment.