Sankalp Charitable Trust v. Union of India

by Ayushi Gupta

Recently, the Supreme Court rendered an important verdict with massive implications for the writ petition filed by the Medical Council of India and Dental Council of India against the decision passed in Christian Medical College v. Union of India[1] which disallowed States to conduct their own entrance exams and providing relief to plethora of underprivileged students ordered NEET as the criterion for admissions.

The Government introduced “one country, one test” format for all the aspiring medical students of the country which will be known as National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET). NEET was initially scheduled to take place in 2012 but due to oppositions from various States it was put to hold.

Issue before the court

Whether the decision of the Supreme Court to scrap NEET in Christian Medical College v. Union of India[2] correct or is against Section 33 read with Section 19?A of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and Section 20 of the Dentists Act, 1948 which empowers Medical and Dental Council of India to regulate standards of education by issuing notifications. The real to be determined is “how far is NEET neat”.

Judgment

In the recent judgment passed by the Supreme Court on 28-4-2016, the court speaking through A.R. Dave, Shiva Kirti Singh and Adarsh K. Goel, JJ. held that NEET should be held and notwithstanding any order passed by any court earlier with regard to not holding NEET, this order shall operate. It was further held that the judgment passed in Christian Medical College v. Union of India[3], “that it would not be proper to hold NEET” is no more valid and should not affect pending matters.

Analysis

The overall seats in MBBS are 49,990 out of which 25,330 belong to government medical colleges and 24,660 to private medical colleges[4]. Earlier State Government selected students through All India Pre-Medical Test (Aipmt) or CET which is now replaced by NEET with no major controversy. Problem arises for 24,660 seats which are reserved for private medical colleges. NEET does not alter the number of seats offered by private medical colleges and minority institutions. Instead it provides a ranking which the private medical colleges will have to adhere while selecting students.

In 2014, various writ petitions were filed against the two notifications of Medical Council of India, one amending Medical Council of India Regulations on Graduate Medical Education, 1997 and other amending MCI Postgraduate Educational Regulations, 2000 and two notifications of Dental Council of India which introduced an all India common entrance examination for medical, dental and postgraduate courses to be conducted across the country challenging the constitutional and the statutory validity.[5]

First, the contention of Christian Medical College, Vellore in Christian Medical College v. Union of India[6] was that NEET violates fundamental right as unaided minority has its own procedure and method of admission for selection of students, and its purpose is nationalisation which will in turn deprive the underprivileged. Christian Medical College, Vellore alleged that MCI and DCI have power to only make recommendations and not conduct the examination themselves. Christian Medical College, Vellore cited the case TMA Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka[7] where it was clearly held that except for providing minimum qualification and eligibility, the admission cannot be regulated by State.

On the contrary, it was submitted by the respondent that the purpose of NEET was to introduce uniformity of standards and lessen the hardship of students to write multiple entrance examinations. It was also submitted that regulations of Section 33 of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 were framed to apply to both majority and minority institutions. Right of minority is not denied as the institutes can chose successful minority who have secured minimum marks from the list of NEET.

This could be called the winning contention on part of the respondent as a very strong claim of petitioner falls to ground. The private medical colleges retain the option of offering seats to students of their community on the basis of merit list provided by NEET. Therefore, as long as admission process qualifies the “triple test” laid in P.A. Inamdar[8] i.e. fair, transparent and non?exploitative, it would be unjust to interfere in admission process of an institution. However, in the recent times, education has been made a profiteering business rather than a medium of imparting knowledge. Today, medical institutions are indulging in gross malpractices of charging huge amount of capitation fee, donations, etc. in garb of autonomy. In Modern Dental College and Research Centre v. State of M.P.[9] the stand of private medical colleges that conducting of entrance test by State violated the autonomy of colleges had been rejected.

In Kerala Education Bill, 1957, In re[10], it was observed that admission to educational institutions is an indispensible part of right of an educational institution which cannot be regulated except to lay down standards for maintaining excellence of education. In the case of aided institutions, the State may direct certain number of students to be admitted other than the method adopted by the institution. However, in unaided minority, right to admit students cannot be interfered with. The Court in Christian Medical College v. Union of India[11] differed with the decision passed in Kerala Education Bill case[12] and held that for unaided minority, a certain number of students from other communities should also be admitted to maintain a secular character and described it as “sprinkling effect”.

Second, it was contended by Christian Medical College, Vellore that students from different State Boards take this examination and they are alien to the pattern followed by CBSE, so NEET would be violation of Article 14.

Yet again, there is not enough weight in this contention as NEET will be conducted to test the knowledge of physics, biology and chemistry and irrespective of the syllabus, the human heart can be taught only in one manner.

Third, Christian Medical College, Vellore contended that as Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and Dentists Act, 1948 framed under Schedule VII List I Entry 66, its notifications were delegated legislation so they don’t have power to override legislations of various States under Schedule VII List III Entries 25 and 26.

The respondent submitted that the “standard” in Schedule VII List I Entry 66 was to be given wider interpretation and the rights granted in Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution are limited to religion and available to individuals and not bodies like Christian Medical College, Vellore.

In Preeti Srivastava v. State of M.P.[13] the court held that the standard of education in an institution depends upon the caliber of students who are to be admitted. It was also held that NEET can be conducted under the supervision of MCI as per Section 33 of the Act. Thus, according to Schedule VII List III Entry 25, both the Union and States have power to legislate on matter of medical education subject to provisions of Schedule VII List I Entry 66 which are related to the determination of standards in higher education. It was further added that by virtue of Schedule VII List I Entry 66 the Union can make laws relating to determination of standards in institution for higher education.

The court speaking through Altamas Kabir, C.J., in Christian Medical College v. Union of India[14] held:

Although Article 19(6) permits reasonable restriction on Article 19(1)(g), act of Medical Council of India would not qualify as reasonable restriction but is interference and therefore, the four acts are ultra vires Articles 19(1)(g), 25, 26(a), 29(1) and 30(1).

However, a three-Judge Bench considering similar petitions in Veterinary Council of India v. Indian Council of Agricultural Research[15] held Common All India Entrance Examination as valid. It was also held that Article 19(6) permits reasonable restriction on Article 19(1)(g)  and therefore Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and Dentists Act, 1948 cannot be said to be violative of Article 19(1)(g). Constitution-framers were conscious of the fact that not anybody can be given right to practise any profession without competency and capacity.

In the aftermath of decision passed by Supreme Court in Christian Medical College v. Union of India[16], a petition was filed by Medical Council of India wherein the 5-Judge Bench agreed to hear petition[17] and held that “decision of Christian Medical College[18] needs reconsideration”.

Later, in Sankalp Charitable Trust v. Union of India[19] NEET was held to be valid and operative. There should be a standard to recruit doctors who are well versed in medicine and to achieve this objective Medical Council of India has come up with NEET which will regulate the admission process in three stages:

         (i)   Only students who have right aptitude will be admitted to medical colleges across the country.

        (ii)   Hospitals should be sufficiently equipped with adequate number of patients so that doctors can carry on their practical training properly.

       (iii)   The examination which the students will take should be strictly regulated so as to get admission.

If the institution wants an excellent output then it should look towards recruiting capable and competent students who will later become skilled professional doctors. This is the reason as to why NEET is crucial.

The Court had further ordered to conduct All India Pre-Medical Test (Aipmt) as the first phase of NEET on May 1 and NEET II i.e. the second phase on July 24. Sorting the much debated issue over conducting NEET in two phases, the Supreme Court on 28-4-2016 held that all eligible candidates who could not appear for NEET I or those who have apprehension that they were not well prepared can sit for NEET II provided they give a written undertaking that they agree to give up their candidature in NEET I.

NEET was welcomed by many States as a move to bring transparency and reduce malpractices in several medical and dental colleges of the country. However, it was pointed out by Health Ministers of different States in a meeting headed by the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, J.P. Nadda, that, NEET should be conducted from next year so that students get time to prepare accordingly as there are also issues relating to syllabus which is followed by different State Boards. It was also pointed out that NEET should be allowed in regional languages in addition to English and Hindi.

Differing from the opinion of various Health Ministers, the time given by the Supreme Court to students for preparation cannot be said to be too short as the students who aspire to clear CET or Aipmt already keep preparing for one to two years and NEET is not based upon a different syllabus. It is only for the benefit of underprivileged students so that they get an equal and fair opportunity at medical education. Also, in 2013, a vernacular NEET was conducted and not even a single vernacular language candidate could get admission.[20] According to Medical Council of India Regulations, only those students who have passed 12th standard English paper are eligible to join medical colleges.[21] Therefore, the argument that NEET should be conducted in regional languages other than English and Hindi is absurd and baseless.

The President has promulgated two ordinances to amend the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and the Dentists Act, 1948 and thereby institutionalised NEET and made it applicable for the academic year 2016?2017. The amended ordinances shall not however affect admissions to State Government seats for the academic year 2016-2017.

The Ordinance will allow the State Government to hold their respective entrance tests for 2016-2017. It is also made clear that the private medical colleges and deemed universities have to shortlist students through NEET and they cannot conduct their separate entrance examination.

*Fourth year student, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, National Law University, Lucknow.

[1]   (2013) 14 SCC 539.

[2]   (2013) 14 SCC 539.

[3]   (2014) 2 SCC 305.

[4]<http://www.mciindia.org/for-colleges/Minimum%20Standard%20Requirements%20for% 20100%20Admissions.pdf> accessed 22-5-2016.

[5]   (2014) 2 SCC 305.

[6]   (2014) 2 SCC 305.

[7]   (2002) 8 SCC 481.

[8]   (2005) 6 SCC 537.

[9]   (2009) 7 SCC 751.

[10]  AIR 1958 SC 956.

[11]  (2014) 2 SCC 305.

[12]  AIR 1958 SC 956.

[13]  (1999) 7 SCC 120.

[14]  (2014) 2 SCC 305.

[15]  (2000) 1 SCC 750.

[16]  (2014) 2 SCC 305.

[17]  Medical Council of India v. Christian Medical College, (2016) 4 SCC 342.

[18]  (2014) 2 SCC 305.

[19]  2016 SCC OnLine SC 366.

[20]  Devi Shetty, The NEET Solution: By endorsing NEET, Supreme Court comes to the aid of aspiring medical students (The Times of India, 19-5-2016) <https://blogs.timesofinida.indiatimes.com/toi-edit-page/the-neet-solution-by-endorsing-neet-supreme-court-comes-to-the-aid-of-aspiring-medical-students/> accessed 20-5-2016.

[21]http://www.mciindia.org/for-colleges/Minimum%20Standard%20Requirements%20for% 20100%20Admissions.pdf> accessed 22-5-2016.

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