The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) to be considered for admissions to all open category medical seats for the academic year 2021-22 at par with Indian citizens, instead of confining them to seats/ quota for Non-Resident Indian (NRI) students [Dr. Radhika Thappeta v. Union of India].
The interim order was passed by a Bench of Justices Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari on a plea challenging a March 4, 2021 notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs which put OCIs at par with NRIs making them eligible to apply only for NRI seats with regard to All India Entrance Tests such as National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) etc.
"We are of the view that at least for this academic year 2021-2022 petitioners are entitled to be considered for admission to all medical seats where OCIs were eligible (earlier). This interim order is confined to 2021-22," the Supreme Court ordered.
Justice Nazeer noted that while the government may have the power to issue such a notification, it was the "suddenness" with which it was enforced which caused problems as it could lead to practical difficulties.
"Even to make financial arrangements and arrange for a loan, so many requirements are to be met. You have not even given them six months time," the Court remarked. while granting interim relief for the present academic year.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati said that these are people who have sworn their allegiance to another country and the government was well within its rights to classify them separately and there is an intelligible differentia under Article 14.
But the Court found it fit to give the petitioners leeway for the current academic year.
The petition preferred by certain OCI students who are NEET aspirants, sought a declaration that clause 4 (ii) of notification dated March 4, 2021 is ultra vires Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India since it fails to accord parity to Indian OCIs with resident Indian citizens in matters relating to entry and admission to professional colleges in India from 2021-2022.
The plea pointed out that OCIs like petitioners have undergone many years of their schooling in India, and their families live and work in India.
Despite the same they are not allowed to compete with the general pool of candidates and are forced to compete for a very small number of seats earmarked for NRIs.
This would mean that they would also have to pay exorbitant admission fees that accompany the NRI quota seats, which they cannot afford unlike NRIs whose families are living and working in the global west and have more access to financial resources, the plea said.
The petitioner also sought quashing of para 4.2.3 of the NEET UG information bulletin which stated that OCIs are not eligible for admission to medical seats reserved exclusively for Indian citizens.
The petitioners argued that the said clause was a complete reversal of the earlier notification dated January 5, 2009 issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs which placed OCIs at par with Indian citizens in matters of admissions.
The plea, therefore, sought a direction to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and National Testing Agency to treat the petitioners at par with Indian citizens for the purposes of admission to MBBS/BDS courses and other undergraduate medical courses in approved/recognized Medical/Dental & other Colleges/ Institutes.
The petitioner also contended that the clause was an attempt to override a Karnataka High Court judgment of December 2020 which had held that the 2009 notification could only be interpreted to allow OCIs admission at par with Indian Citizens.
Senior Advocate Vikas Singh appeared for the petitioners in the case along with Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamat and Abhishek Jebaraj.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati appeared for the Central government.