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The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the introduction of National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for the process of admission in AYUSH Undergraduate courses.
The question before the Court pertained to the admission to AYUSH Undergraduate Courses in BAMS, BUMS, BSMS, and BHMS and whether students seeking admission in these courses could be denied the same on the grounds that they did not take the NEET or failed to get the minimum required percentile laid down under 2018 Regulations.
In 2018, the Indian Medicine Central Council (Minimum Standards of Education Indian Medicine) Regulations, 1986 were amended to provide for a common form entrance exam (NEET) for all medical institutions for undergraduate courses. The amended regulation also provided for this exam to be conducted by an authority designated by the Central Government.
The notification of the 2018 Regulation was challenged before the Punjab & Haryana High Court which had dismissed the same. However, by way of interim orders, the High Court had allowed for admission to be granted to students without insisting on the eligibility criterion that was laid down in the 2018 Regulations pertaining to minimum marks in the NEET.
The decision of the High Court was challenged before the Supreme Court where it was contended that the Regulations of 2018 are ulta vires the Indian Medicine Central Council Act of 1970 and that the introduction of NEET goes beyond the scope of the regulation making authority of the Central Council under Section 36 of this Act.
The Students and the Institutes had also contended that the 2018 Regulations are not in conformity with “purposes of the Act” under Section 36 (1) of the Act.
The Centre, as opposed to this, had argued that the 2018 Regulations were "perfectly valid" and were made in a valid exercise of the power conferred on the Central Council under Section 36 of the Act.
The Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta has now ruled that the Regulation was not ultra vires the Act and upheld the Regulation providing for a common exam for admission even for AYUSH undergraduate Courses.
Further, the Court added that the question of validity of such Regulations was dealt with by the Supreme Court in a similar case involving the Veterinary Council of India and that the same stood resolved.
In that case the Court had held that the "Veterinary Council of India is authorized to frame regulations prescribing the standards of veterinary education and such power includes power to make Regulations".
The Supreme Court proceeded to observe that the instant case is "squarely covered" by this judgment and thus the Regulations cannot be said to be ultra vires.
The Court also agreed to the submissions made by the Centre vehemently defending the introduction of a minimum percentile for admission to medical institutes. The Court said,
It was argued before the Court that prescription of a minimum standard had led to a number of seats falling vacant. To this, the Court observed that "non availability of eligible candidates cannot be a reason to lower the standard prescribed."
All the same, as a one-time measure, the Court allowed the students who have already secured admission to continue in their respective institutes owing to the large number of admissions granted following interim orders passed by the High Court. However, the Court stressed that, in this regard, the order shall not be treated as precedent.