Interim Order Summary: EWS Reservations in 2021 PG NEET

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

On January 19th  2022, Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna delivered an Interim Order explaining their earlier decision to allow the Union government to use the Rs. 8 Lakhs annual income criteria for EWS reservations in 2021 postgraduate medical admissions. This permission was granted despite the Court’s apprehension that the criteria was not based on sufficient research and data. The Court granted this permission so that PG admissions may be completed swiftly, meeting the urgent need for new doctors in hospitals dealing with the Third Wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Court will decide the validity of the Rs. 8 lakhs criteria for future admissions after hearing more detailed arguments in March 2022. 

The Union government had announced the Rs. 8 lakhs annual income criteria for EWS reservations within the General Category through an Office Memorandum (OM) in January 2019. The Rs. 8 lakhs income figure was derived from the Major Sinho Commission’s recommendations. The OM added one more requirement to the Sinho Commission recommendations—those holding residential assets of various kinds would be excluded from EWS reservations even if their annual income was under Rs. 8 Lakhs. The Pandey Committee, established by the Union government in 2021 to reassess the income criteria, confirmed that the Rs. 8 lakhs figure was reliable, but suggested that the residential asset exclusions should be abandoned to ensure that no EWS candidates in need of reservation benefits were left out on technical grounds. 

The January 19th Order stated that making amendments to the EWS criteria for 2021 admissions would be imprudent in light of the urgent need for more PG doctors to help counter the Third Wave. Candidates would have to be given time to arrange and submit documents to prove their eligibility for reservations according to the new criteria. The Union government would also take time to verify these documents. This would delay the admissions process by another few months. 

The Order stated two reasons for its reluctance to stay EWS reservations in 2021 admissions. First, that MD/MS admissions for 2021 have already been conducted with EWS reservations. The SC, in Pradeep Jain (1984), held that parity must be maintained between PG MBBS and MD/MS. Therefore, to disallow EWS reservations in 2021 PG MBBS admissions would cause disparity. Second, that judicial propriety bars the Bench from interfering with the EWS reservation policy at this stage. The Court must not pass an interim order interfering with a legislation or rule until it is convinced that the rule is prima facie arbitrary. In this case, the Order stated that the Bench had not heard both sides’ arguments extensively enough to decide on prime facie arbitrariness. 

The Order made no comments about the validity of the Rs. 8 lakhs income criteria. The fate of this criteria for future admissions will be decided in March.