States lack legislative competence to reserve seats in medical admissions: Centre

‘Horizontal quota for medical seats will undo reform: Centre of merit-based admission through NEET’

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has questioned the legislative competence of State governments to enact laws which provide horizontal reservation to government school students in medical admissions every year.

The Ministry has also said that any such horizontal reservation would “undo the reform of merit-based admission” implemented across the country through the introduction of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission in medical courses.

The submissions were made in a counter affidavit filed before the Madras High Court in response to a plea to implement the Puducherry Cabinet’s decision to provide 10% horizontal reservation to government school students in medical admissions.

Subulakshmi, a Class 12 student, had filed the writ petition through senior counsel P. Wilson. She sought a direction to the Centre to approve the Cabinet’s decision since Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Kiran Bedi had referred the issue to the Union Home Ministry.

In the affidavit filed before Justice B. Pugalendhi, the Home Ministry said the L-G’s reference was taken up for inter-ministerial consultation. The views of the Union Health Ministry as well as the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) were solicited.

On December 10, 2020, the Health Ministry replied that though the subject ‘medical education’ falls under the concurrent list under the Constitution, ‘determination of minimum standards in institutions for higher education’ fell under the Union list. Therefore, any legislation passed by a State government with regard to medical admissions would be subject to Centre’s power to determine minimum standards, the Ministry said. It also pointed out that NEET was implemented since 2016 to “introduce merit in medical education”.

One nation, one merit

“NEET provides uniform national standards imbibing the principle of one nation, one merit. The proposed legislation by the Union Territory Cabinet dilutes the merit of NEET by providing a separate quota to students of government schools,” the Health Ministry said.

“Any horizontal reservation is likely to create abnormal incentives/disincentives affecting pre-medical education which will not be desirable. Also, this may lead to similar/other demands from other States,” the Ministry added.

After apprising the court of the remarks received from the Health Ministry, the Home Ministry urged the High Court to grant it a few more weeks’ time to report further progress on the issue after receiving the comments from the DoPT too.

The judge accepted the request and adjourned the case for further hearing to February 25.

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