PG NEET EWS Reservations #8: Validity of 8 Lakhs income criteria to be decided before NEET 2022

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

On March 21st 2022, Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant heard challenges from NEET candidates and doctors to EWS reservations in entrance examinations for post-graduate medical courses.

The Supreme Court, through an Interim Order dated January 7th 2022, permitted the Union government’s Rs.8 Lakh annual income criteria to be used for EWS reservations in PG NEET 2021. This was done amidst protests from overworked resident doctors, to ensure that new resident doctors could be appointed to quickly fill vacancies in hospitals before the Third Wave peaked. The question of the validity of the Rs. 8 lakhs limit for future admissions was to be decided on a later date.

The Bench will begin hearing arguments on the validity of the income criteria today. The petitioners argue that the Rs. 8 Lakhs income criteria is too wide. They further argue that the criteria is not based on reliable data and were devised without due application of mind.

The Union Government’s stance has shifted in the course of these hearings. First, the Union stated that the EWS limit was set at Rs. 8 lakhs to mirror the creamy layer exclusion criteria for OBC reservations. The petitioners and the Bench pointed out that EWS and OBC reservations are not comparable. The OBC creamy layer criteria excludes OBC candidates who have overcome historic social and educational backwardness through economic advancement from claiming the reservation benefits. On the other hand, EWS candidates are given reservation benefits because of economic deprivation, without the pretext of social and educational backwardness.

Upon encountering this argument, the Union informed the Court that it would reconsider the Rs. 8 Lakhs limit. The Bench directed the Union to answer a series of questions in this process to clarify what method was used to arrive at the criteria. The Union Government returned to the Court with a report from a committee of experts stating that the Rs. 8 Lakhs limit was based on reliable data. Based on this Report, the Union intends to retain the Rs. 8 Lakhs criteria. The petitioners argue that the Report does not sufficiently answer the Court’s questions about the origins of the criteria.

In today’s brief hearings. Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for the petitioners, emphasised that the Court must conclude hearings soon. To ensure that 2022 PG admissions are not delayed like last year, he urged the Bench to decide the validity of the income criteria before NEET 2022 is due to begin in May. Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj agreed.

The Bench decided to hear the matter early in April 2022.