India may soon have a nationwide common medical entrance test, benefiting millions of students who juggle multiple admission norms by private colleges and travel across the country to sit for examinations whose schedules often clash.
The Supreme Court recalled on Monday a 2013 judgment that quashed the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), saying it will consider afresh the constitutional validity of a 2010 Medical Council of India notification mandating a common examination for all dental, undergraduate and postgraduate medical courses.
The decision may hurt many private colleges that often set arbitrary admission norms and charge capitation fees running into several lakhs. At present, only government institutions have a common medical entrance test.
But whether the MCI will direct private institutions to be part of the NEET for this year’s admissions remained uncertain.
MCI sources said they will take a final decision after seeing the order, though the SC paved the way for the exam by recalling its order. “We can’t say anything as of now as we haven’t received the order,” MCI secretary Dr Reena Nayar told HT.
Sources in the council said it was a significant issue and no individual could take a decision.
“Whether the order is implemented this year will have to be discussed at a larger platform. Such decisions need to go through the executive council or even general body of the house, and also possibly discussed with the health ministry,” said a source.
In 2013, the top court struck down by a 2-1 majority the MCI’s order to hold NEET. It held the council did not have the power to regulate admissions to over 400 government and private colleges. There are 31,000 undergraduate medical and dental seats (MBBS and BDS) and 11,000 masters medical (MD) seats in India.
“Suffice it is to mention that the majority view (of the 2013 judgement) has not taken into consideration some binding precedents and more particularly, we find that there was no discussion among the members of the Bench before pronouncement of the judgment,” ordered a five member SC bench headed by justice AR Dave.
It did not set a date for the next hearing.
In 2013, then Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir -- on his last day in office -- and justice Vikramjit Sen delivered the majority judgment, allowing private colleges’ argument that NEET violated their rights to run educational institutions.
However, justice Dave – the third judge – wrote a strong dissenting note. He stressed there was no proper discussion on the draft majority, which he said was rushed because the CJI was to retire in a few days.
Students and parents had welcomed NEET because it brought transparency in an otherwise disorganized sector and offered respite to aspiring doctors.
The SC said it will not give detailed reasons for reconsidering the three-year-old verdict so that the matter could be heard afresh without any prejudice.
“After giving our thoughtful and due consideration, we are of the view that the judgment delivered in Christian Medical College (supra) needs reconsideration. We do not propose to state reasons in detail at this stage so as to see that it may not prejudicially affect the hearing of the matters,” the five-judge bench said.
The review petitions by the MCI and the Centre were first placed before a three-judge bench which on October 23, 2013 issued notices and later preferred to refer the matter to the five-judge bench.