The Supreme Court has agreed to hear today, 5 January, a plea related to the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quota in NEET-PG admissions, after the Centre sought an urgent hearing in the matter.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana and justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli took note of the submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Centre, that the matter pertains to admissions to post-graduate medical courses and that students have been facing difficulties.
"It concerns EWS of the society. There's a statement made by us which prevents further counselling of resident doctors," the law officer submitted, seeking urgent hearing of the matter. "Resident doctors are protesting and their concerns are genuine."
The CJI has said on Tuesday, "The problem is it is a three-judge bench matter, this entire week is a miscellaneous week. Let me see if tomorrow, some judge is available, we will constitute a bench. Let me see. If possible, I will constitute a three-judge bench or it will go before a Division bench tomorrow."
The CJI said the first week after the winter vacation is the miscellaneous week and hence, no three-judge bench was available except the one led by him.
On Monday, a bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud had told the Centre that a bench of requisite strength can be set up by the CJI as the EWS quota matter is being heard by a three-judge bench.
The Centre, through the Solicitor General, had mentioned the matter for urgent hearing on Monday as well.
"The moment today's work gets over, I would make a request to CJI NV Ramana for the listing of the case," Justice Chandrachud had said.
So what is this case about?
Large-scale protests have been held by resident doctors of various hospitals under the banner of the Federation of Resident Doctors' Association (FORDA) in Delhi and other parts of the country over a delay in the NEET-PG counselling, which has been deferred due to the Centre deciding to revisit the criteria for the determination of the EWS quota.
A total of over 89,000 doctors had qualified in the NEET-PG examination conducted in September out of over 160,000 who appeared.
The matter pending before the court has been filed by resident doctors who have challenged a 29 July 2021 notification by the Centre introducing 27 percent OBC quota and 10 percent EWS quota in the NEET all-India quota seats. The petitions questioned the basis for applying the EWS quota, and said that such reservation would exceed the 50 percent benchmark set by the top court in its earlier decisions since there is also a 22.5 percent reservation for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes.
The Centre had formed a review committee comprising Ajay Bhushan Pandey, former finance secretary; Professor VK Malhotra, member secretary, ICSSR; and Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Advisor to the Government of India. The committee had submitted its report on 31 December, supporting the Rs 8 lakh income threshold as a “reasonable” basis to determine EWS.
“The current gross annual family income limit for EWS of Rs 8 lakh or less may be retained. In other words, only those families whose annual income is up to Rs 8 lakh would be eligible to get the benefit of EWS reservation,” the report said.
In its affidavit filed in the apex court, the Centre has said it has decided to accept the recommendations of a three-member panel to retain the current gross annual family income limit for defining Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) at Rs 8 lakh or less.
The government has also told the court that according to the panel, family income is a "feasible criterion" for defining EWS, and in the current situation, a threshold of Rs 8 lakh of annual family income seems reasonable for determining EWS.
In its affidavit filed in a matter related to admissions for NEET-PG, the Centre has said the panel has recommended that "only those families whose annual income is up to Rs 8 lakh would be eligible to get the benefit of the EWS reservation".
According to The Hindu, the Supreme Court’s query was significant as the One Hundred and Third Constitutional Amendment of 2019, which introduced the 10percent EWS quota, is itself under challenge before a larger bench. The amendment is under question for making economic criteria as the sole ground for grant of reservation benefits.
With inputs from agencies