SC sets aside Madras HC order on 10% EWS quota
The Supreme Court on Friday said that the Union government does not need its approval to implement the 10% quota for students from economically weaker sections (EWS) in the All India Quota (AIQ) seats for post-graduate and undergraduate medical and dental courses, as indicated in a Madras High Court order.
Separately, since the government’s July 29 decision introducing the 10% EWS quota along with 27% reservation for other backward classes (OBCs) in AIQ seats from the current academic session is already under challenge in the top court, it directed the Centre to file its response by October 6.
The Court order was passed in two separate proceedings. In one, the Union government was before the court challenging an August 18 order by the Madras High Court which stopped it from proceeding with the 10% EWS reservation without prior approval from the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Bench which is looking into the legal validity of the 103rd amendment passed by Parliament that provides reservations for those belonging to EWS.
In the other, the top court was considered four writ petitions questioning the constitutional validity of the July 29 order. One of the four also raised an interim prayer seeking a stay on the implementation of the order for this academic session.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) KM Nataraj appearing for the Union government submitted that the Madras High Court order was wrong and should be set aside. On the second set of petitions challenging the July 29 notification, he sought time to file a reply.
The bench of Justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and BV Nagarathna allowed the Centre to respond to the four petitions by October 6 and agreed to consider on October 7 whether the proposed reservation must be implemented from this year onwards. Senior advocates Arvind Datar and Shyam Divan, representing doctors from across the country, claimed urgency as the results of National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) for undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate (PG) medical courses were expected soon.
On the Madras high court order, the bench felt that the direction to the Centre for seeking prior approval of the top court was “unnecessary”. That Madras HC order was passed on a contempt petition moved by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, which was seeking implementation of an earlier order of the High Court passed on July 27, 2020 by which the Union government was directed to form a committee and prepare a plan for rolling out OBC quota in All India Quota seats from 2021-22.
The HC in its August 18 decision held that no contempt was made out against Centre in the light of the July 29 notification issued by it. While noting that the 10% EWS was introduced under the 103rd Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019, which is being examined by a Constitution Bench of five judges of the Supreme Court, the HC order said, “The additional reservation provided for economically weaker sections in the notification of July 29, 2021 cannot be permitted, except with the approval of the Supreme Court in such regard.”
The SC bench knocked off this direction of the HC order and said, “We are of the view that the High Court has transgressed the limits of its contempt jurisdiction by entering into areas alien to the consideration before it on whether there was any breach of its direction of July 27, 2020….The direction issued by the High Court is alien to the exercise of contempt jurisdiction and is accordingly set aside.”
The top court clarified that it has not expressed any opinion on the July 29 notification which is still under consideration before it. ASG Nataraj told the Court that in the petitions challenging the OBC and EWS quota, the petitioners have also challenged the 103rd Constitution Amendment. He said, “Our July 29 notification of providing reservation is in terms of the 103rd Constitution Amendment Act. This Act has been referred to a Constitution Bench. Till a decision is taken, the EWS quota is to be held valid.”
Datar appearing for some of the doctors in one of the petitions said, “Till the 103rd Amendment Act is set aside, we have to assume it is valid. But we are on its implementation. How do they justify classifying a person with annual income of ₹8 lakh as economically weaker section when the income tax exemption limit in the country is ₹five lakh. The determination of economically weaker category is legally flawed and unconstitutional, and we want the Government to tell us how they settled on this figure.”
Divan appearing in another petition told the Court, “The Information Brochure for the PG medical exam was out in February this year and the date of examination was announced on July 13. The reservation was announced only on July 29. At least for this year, there ought not to be any reservation in AIQ seats as it sucks away 2500 seats from the general quota students.”
Both Datar and Divan represented 35 doctors who have moved separate petitions against the move to reserve seats under AIQ, which already provides reservation for Scheduled Castes (15%), Scheduled Tribes (7.5%) and persons with disability (5%).
The July 29 decision applies to 50% PG seats and 15% UG seats under All India Quota seats. The Government had said, “This decision would benefit every year nearly 1500 OBC students in MBBS and 2500 OBC students in PG and also around 550 EWS students in MBBS and around 1000 EWS students in PG.”
“The impugned decision is manifestly arbitrary as it is in complete breach of Article 14 (right to equality), 15 (non-discrimination), 16 (equality of opportunity in public employment) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution of India and also bypasses ceiling of reservation of 50 per cent (fixed by SC in the 1992 Indra Sahwney case),” the petitions filed through advocates Malak Manish Bhatt and Charu Mathur said.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and P Wilson appearing for DMK pointed out that the states also need to be heard in these petitions as the July 29 circular applies throughout the country with states being necessary stakeholders. The Court said it will consider this aspect on the next date of hearing.