‘Reservation is not at odds with merit, but furthers the social good of equality,’ said the Supreme Court
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the Constitutional validity of 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in All India Quota seats for admission in post-graduate and undergraduate medical courses in government-run medical colleges. It said the “reservation is not at odds with merit” but furthers the social good of equality.
Holding that “providing reservation in the AIQ seats is a policy decision of the government, which will be subject to the contours of judicial review similar to every reservation policy”, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud heading a bench also comprising Justice A.S. Bopanna rejected petitioners’ contention that the rules of the game were changed midway when the process for NEET PG for AIQ had already commenced.
Pointing to chapter-II of the information bulletin issued for NEET PG AIQ seats that specifically states that the “reservation applicable to NEET-PG would be notified by the counselling authority before the beginning of the counselling process”, the court said, “It thus cannot be argued that the rules of the game were set when the registration for the examination closed.”
Speaking for the bench, Justice Chandrachud said, “High scores in an examination are not a proxy for merit. Merit should be socially contextualised and reconceptualised as an instrument that advances social goods like equality that we as a society value. In such a context, reservation is not at odds with merit but furthers its distributive consequences.”
He further said, “Merit cannot be reduced to narrow definitions of performance in an open competitive examination which only provides formal equality of opportunity. Competitive examinations assess basic current competency to allocate educational resources but are not reflective of excellence, capabilities and potential of an individual which are also shaped by lived experiences, subsequent training and individual character.”
“Crucially, open competitive examinations do not reflect the social, economic and cultural advantage that accrues to certain classes and contributes to their success in such examinations”, says the judgment.
Assessing the issue on constitutional imperatives, the court said, “Articles 15(4) and 15 (5) are not an exception to Article 15 (1), which itself sets out the principle of substantive equality (including the recognition of existing inequalities). Thus, Articles 15 (4) and 15 (5) become a restatement of a particular facet of the rule of substantive equality that has been set out in Article 15 (1).”
Having upheld the constitutional validity of 27% OBC reservation in AIQ seats in postgraduate and undergraduate medical courses, the court however, said that the validity of criteria for determining EWS quota will be heard at length later in March this year.
The top court’s detailed order giving its reasoning upholding the constitutional validity of for OBC reservation in NEET AIQ seats came in pursuance to its January 7 order permitting the counselling for NEET-PG AIQ seats on the basis of OBC/EWS reservation.
The top court was approached in a batch of petitions challenging July 29, 2021, notification providing for 27% reservation for OBC and 10% for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in the AIQ seats in State government medical institutions.