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In an important judgment, the Supreme Court today ruled that the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) will apply to private unaided minority professional institutes for admission into MBBS, MD, BDS and MDS courses (Christian Medical College Vellore Association v. Union of India).
The judgment was passed by a three-judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran, and MR Shah.
The Bench was called upon to judge the validity of the amendment made to Section 10D of the Indian Medical Council Act of 1956, regulations thereunder, and similar provisions inserted in the Dentists Act & Regulations. The petitioners had argued that these amendments impinged upon the rights of private minority institutions, as NEET was imposed upon them.
This argument of not accepting NEET was primarily made on the basis that all these private minority institutions had their own entrance exams.
However, the Court held that there was no violation of fundamental rights of the unaided/aided minority institutes by following NEET.
The Supreme Court held:
"Resultantly, we hold that there is no violation of the rights of the unaided/aided minority to administer institutions under Articles 19(1) (g) and 30 read with Articles 25, 26 and 29(1) of the Constitution of India by prescribing the uniform examination of NEET for admissions in the graduate and postgraduate professional courses of medical as well as dental science. The provisions of the Act and regulation cannot be said to be ultra vires or taking away the rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India under Article 30(1) read with Articles 19(1)(g), 14, 25, 26 and 29(1)."
Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, which is the primary petitioner in this case, had begun fighting the matter (with other petitioners) since the idea of applying NEET across the country had been floated in 2011. After the Madras High Court failed to rule in their favour, they moved the Supreme Court in 2012.
The first year after NEET was implemented, CMC opted against carrying on with NEET-based admissions. The following year too the institute managed to secure an exemption order from the Tamil Nadu government, to not follow NEET-based admissions, and admitted students through their management quota.
CMC had maintained that they did not oppose NEET, but defended its right to hold their own counselling. It further contended that it had its own criteria for admitting students, which was to admit students who have a passion to work in rural areas.
It was argued that through NEET, they would not be able to conduct interviews to determine whether the student has an interest or inclination towards the same.
However, now after this ruling, NEET stands imposed on the petitioners.
The Court, while delivering its verdict, also noted that NEET was needed to curb the prevalent "malpractices" and to usher in "transparency." It observed,
"The rights under Article 19(1)(g) are not absolute and are subject to reasonable restriction in the interest of the student's community to promote merit, recognition of excellence, and to curb the malpractices."
The Apex Court also stated that a uniform entrance test qualifies the test of proportionality and is reasonable. Further, the same is "intended to check several maladies which crept into medical education, to prevent capitation fee by admitting students which are lower in merit and to prevent exploitation, profiteering, and commercialisation of education."
Moreover, the Supreme Court noted that rights of religious or linguistic minorities under Article 30 are not in conflict with other parts of the Constitution. The judgment notes,
"Balancing the rights is constitutional intendment in the national and more enormous public interest. Regulatory measures cannot be said to be exceeding the concept of limited governance. The regulatory measures in question are for the improvement of the public health and is a step forward."
The Court has also stated that though there is a concept of "limited interference by government" in the affairs of the minority institutes, reasonable regulatory measures can be provided as "professional educational institutions are a class unto themselves."
"The rights to administer an institution under Article 30 of the Constitution are not above the law and other Constitutional provisions. Reasonable regulatory measures can be provided without violating such rights available under Article 30 of the Constitution to administer an institution."
It thus held that the rights available under Article 30 are not violated by provisions carved out in Section 10D of the MCI Act and the Dentists Act and Regulations.
[Read the judgment]