NEET-PG counselling to start under current rules
The interim order by the court was necessitated after the Centre sought an urgent hearing in view of a protest by resident doctors demanding counselling at the earliest.
The Supreme Court on Friday allowed the Centre to go ahead with counselling for NEET-PG and undergraduate medical courses by upholding the government decision to introduce 27% OBC quota within the all-India quota (AIQ) seats and for this year, and permitted 10% reservation for economically weaker section (EWS) among the general category to be applied based on the criteria laid down in January 2019.
However, the Court said it will review the criteria for EWS reservations as laid down by a three-member committee headed by former finance secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey when petitions challenging the introduction of EWS quota in Neet-PG AIQ seats by a July 2021 circular are heard in March.
The interim order by the court was necessitated after the Centre sought an urgent hearing in view of a protest by resident doctors demanding counselling at the earliest. First-year postgraduate (PG) medical students could not be admitted because the process was halted, causing a cascading effect on the medical workforce since first-year PG resident doctors constitute about 33% of the total strength at government hospitals.
The resident doctors’ association also intervened in the proceedings, and demanded early counselling in national interest since Covid-19 cases were rising, and the need for adequate staffing was heightened.
A bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and AS Bopanna acknowledged the urgency. “The validity of 27% OBC quota is upheld in NEET-PG and NEET-UG courses in the AIQ seats,” the bench said.
On July 29, 2021, the Centre had introduced 27% OBC quota and 10% EWS quota in 15% AIQ seats in NEET-UG and 50% AIQ seats in NEET-PG.
On the EWS quota, the Court raised several doubts over the past few months -- including whether an income cap of ₹8 lakh per annum can be applied uniformly throughout the country without cost of living in different urban and rural pockets being taken into account; and that this exceeded the permitted 50% quota cap prescribed by the Supreme Court in its 1992 Indra Sawhney judgment.
“The resolution of this issue will take some time. We accept the recommendation of the Pandey Committee that the January 17, 2019 notification be applied for the current academic year so that admissions are not dislocated. Counselling be conducted as per July 29, 2021 order,” the bench said. It added, however: “The validity of criteria would prospectively be subject to the final decision in these petitions.”
The petitions will now be taken up in the third week of March.
Every year an estimated 45,000 candidates are inducted as postgraduate doctors through the NEET PG examination. The petitions before the Court were filed by doctors who appeared for NEET-PG 2021 and objected to the July 29 order taking away nearly 3,500 seats (2,500 for OBC and 1,000 for EWS).
“We are thankful to the Supreme Court and MoHFW for taking note of the grievance of resident doctors. As earlier, as an association of resident doctors, who are working at ground level, FORDA will keep raising the issues of resident doctors and will strive to improve the healthcare system of the country,” the Federation of Resident Doctors’ Association (FORDA) said in a statement on Friday.
FORDA had appealed to the Court on Thursday to hold counselling as resident doctors constituted the backbone of medical workforce across the country. With the first-year doctors yet to join, almost 33% of this workforce was not available at a crucial time when Covid cases were on the rise and many among the resident doctors were getting infected with the disease. In four months, the final year PG students would pass out, creating a huge shortfall of doctors.
The NEET counselling schedule is tentative.
The resident doctors had gone on strike protesting the delay in NEET-PG counseling. Their 14-day strike ended last Friday after an assurance was given by the Union health ministry to come out with the NEET-PG counselling schedule soon after the hearing in the Court on January 6. FORDA had even demanded cancellation of the FIRs registered against doctors after they were manhandled by the Delhi Police while marching to the Supreme Court as part of their protest. This demand was also accepted by the government.
“It is unfortunate that to get the counselling expedited, young doctors had to strive vociferously for four months on the streets and succumb to police brutality . Hope the ministry will expedite the admission process and enable the classes to be started with in two weeks,” said Dr JA Jayalal, former president of the Indian Medical Association.
- Neet Pg