New Delhi, 22 October 2021 – On Thursday (October 21), the Supreme Court (SC) asked the Centre whether it would like to revisit the criteria of INR 8 lakh as the annual income for determining the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) category for reservation in NEET admissions. The court has clarified that it has no intention of going into the policy domain and it only wants to find out whether constitutional principles were taken into account while making this policy.
The court was hearing a batch of pleas challenging the Centre’s and Medical Counselling Committee’s (MCC) notice, which fixed 27% reservation for Other Backward Class (OBC) and 10% reservation for EWS categories in National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) admissions.
The court was vexed as no affidavits were filed by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment and the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT) regarding the move. Therefore, the SC has formulated questions to be answered by the Centre in a week. SC noted that it was ready to discharge its duties but it wanted to know the basis for fixing Rs 8 lakh as the limit of determining the EWS category. It also offered the option to pass a stay order on the government’s move of fixing INR 8 lakhs as the criterion. This was offered so that the Centre could file the required affidavits before the court and the proceeding can move forward with due diligence.
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SC Questions and the Centre Answers
The questions put forth by the Supreme Court are:
- Whether any exercise was undertaken before fixing a limit of Rs 8 lakh annual income for determining the EWS category.
- Whether ‘Major Gen (Retd) SR Sinho Commission Report 2010’* was considered before fixing the criterion? If yes, the report needs to be presented on record before the court.
*Major Gen (Retd) SR Sinho Commission was constituted by the UPA Government in 2010 and has recommended welfare measures for the EWS category.
The Centre gave the following responses to the above-mentioned queries:
- The commission’s report was one of the bases for determining the criterion, but after that, several deliberations were held and other factors were also taken into account.
- The fixing of INR 8 lakh as the criterion was a pure policy matter and the court should not interfere with it as it was decided after proper application of mind.
- The draft of the affidavit by concerned departments was ready and they would be filing it in a day or two.
SC Still Has Many Questions that Need to be Answered
The court has raised many other questions in this regard, which the Centre is expected to answer. Some of these questions are:
- Whether any demographic study or data was taken into account in fixing the limit?
- How did the Centre arrive at this exact figure?
- Can the Supreme Court strike down the criterion, if no study was undertaken?
- Since the income limit of determining the creamy layer in OBC and EWS categories was the same (INR 8 lakh), whether it would be arbitrary to provide a similar income limit for EWS and OBC?
- Whether rural and urban purchasing power was accounted for?
- On what basis the asset exception was arrived at?
- As per the explanation in the 103rd constitution amendment, the criterion for EWS would be notified by the state governments. Then, how could the Centre notify a uniform EWS criterion for the whole of the country?
Note: SC has asked the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and DOPT to file their replies to the above-mentioned questions by October 28.
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