On October 21st, 2021, a three-judge bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Vikram Nath and B.V. Nagarathna  heard four writ petitions challenging reservations of the All India Quota (AIQ) seats in medical postgraduate courses through the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) for the third time.

On July 19th 2021, the Union notified that it will reserve 27% of AIQ seats for Other Backward Classes (OBC) students and 10% of AIQ seats for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) students. The petitioners in the AIQ-NEET cases are doctors and students who claim that the Union’s notification amounts to ‘reverse discrimination’ against general category applicants.

In the previous hearing, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for petitioner Neil Aurelio Nunes,  sought a stay on EWS reservations in the AIQ scheme for admissions in postgraduate medical degrees for 2021. Prompted by Mr. Datar’s submissions, the Bench had asked Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj to file affidavits on behalf of the Union government stating the criteria used to arrive at the Rs. Eight Lakhs annual income limit for EWS categorization.

In today’s hearing, the Bench expressed displeasure at the Union government’s delay in filing affidavits. Mr. Nataraj stated that the figure had been arrived at based on the Major Sinho Committee Report. He also argued that whether the exercise undertaken to determine the income limit was sufficient was a policy matter. Accordingly, the Court could not enquire into it. Chandrachud J rejected this argument, stating that there had to be some basis for arriving at the policy decision.

The Bench framed a set of five issues that the Union must address in its affidavit.

  1. Did the Union government undertake any exercise to arrive at the ₹8 lakhs annual income criteria for EWS?
  2. Was the Major Sinho Commission report was relied upon? The Court must be given a copy of the report, if so.
  3. Is it arbitrary to provide the same income limit for EWS and OBC categories, since OBCs are constitutionally recognised as socially backward, while EWS are not?
  4. Have differences in rural and urban purchasing power been accounted for before imposing a uniform income limit all over the country?
  5. What exercise has been undertaken to determine the asset limits for EWS?

The Bench considered staying the application of EWS reservations in NEET until the Union provided satisfying responses on these issues, but decided against it on the ASG’s insistence.

ASG Nataraj has been granted time until October 28th to file a response on behalf of the Union government. While he requested that this case be heard online, Mr. Datar, appearing on behalf of the petitioner, insisted on physical hearings.