Medical Education Governance in India

Supreme Court upholds validity of OBC quota in NEET admissions


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NEET Quota row

Mains level : Significance of the Judgment, New definition of Merit

The Supreme Court has pronounced its decision upholding the constitutional validity of providing 27% quota to Other Backward Classes (OBC) in NEET All India Quota (AIQ) seats for UG and PG medical courses.

What is the issue?

  • The petitioners, several NEET aspirants, had argued that since the top court had limited reservation to 50% in the Indira Sawhney judgment, the government should have first applied to the court before tinkering with the quota calculations.
  • The court further confirmed that there was no need for the Centre to have got the prior consent of the Supreme Court before introducing OBC quota in the AIQ seats under NEET.
  • The court reasoned that material affluence of certain individual members of a socially backward group or ‘creamy layer’ could not be used against the entire group to deny it the benefits of reservation.

What is the background of this case?

  • The government introduced OBC/EWS quota before the counselling of NEET counselling.
  • The candidates applying for NEET PG were not provided any information on the distribution of the seat matrix.
  • Such information is provided by the counselling authority only after the counselling session is to begin.

Key observations of the Apex Court

  • The SC has held that reservation is not at odds with merit.
  • It observed that ‘merit’ could not be narrowed to the limit of success in open competitive exams.
  • Merit of a person is a sum total of “lived experiences” and his or her struggle to overcome cultural and social setbacks, observed the SC.

Why is this a landmark judgment?

  • Merit cannot be reduced to narrow definitions of performance in an open competitive examination, which only provides formal equality of opportunities , said the SC.
  • Current competencies are assessed by competent examinations but are not reflective of excellence, capability and potential of an individual.

Major justifications for Reservations

  • Exams did not reflect how social, economic and cultural advantages that accrued to certain classes contributed to their success in them, the court noted.
  • Examinations are not a proxy for merit.
  • Merit should be socially contextualized and re-conceptualized.
  • Reservation is not at odds with merit but furthers its distributive impact, Justice Chandrachud observed.

Constitutionality of the decision

  • The court held that the power of the State governments to provide reservations under Article 15 (4) and (5) of the Constitution was not an “exception” to Article 15 (1).
  • It enshrines the mandate that “the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth or any of them”.
  • The court held that the power of the State government to craft reservations for the OBC amplified the principle of “substantive equality” manifested through Article 15 (1).

Implications: Victory for States

  • In a significant victory for States such as Tamil Nadu, the court confirmed their power to make “special provisions” and provide reservations in educational admissions, whether in aided or unaided institutions.
  • TN provides government jobs for the advancement of “any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the SCs and STs”.


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