NEET case: A welcome order
The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday cleared the decks for resuming admission, post the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), in medical courses for the academic year 2021-22, upholding 27% reservation for other backward classes (OBC) and 10% for economically weaker sections (EWS). A two-judge bench accepted the recommendation of a high-level panel that said criteria stipulated in 2019 — ₹8 lakh as the annual income cutoff to decide which applicant is considered for the EWS quota — should be used for 2021-22 to ensure that the admission process is not derailed. Though the order is interim — the SC will hear arguments on the validity of EWS quota in medical seats in March — it resolves a months-long gridlock that stalled admissions, created shortages and brought doctors out on the streets in protest. This is important, especially when a pandemic is sweeping the nation. With many doctors, hospital staff and medical workers testing positive, the burden of medical care is likely to fall on young doctors and residents.
At a time when cases are expected to increase, the country cannot afford to have its frontline medical workers dissatisfied or engaged in protests. India’s overstretched medical infrastructure needs all hands on deck. Although the problem is resolved for the short-term, the manner of the resolution holds lessons for the country and its policymakers. National policy dictates admissions to educational institutes, but lawmakers and the authorities must also share the responsibility of ensuring that the implementation of these guidelines is not disruptive. Intervention by the judiciary cannot become an alternative for bureaucratic alacrity and sensible implementation. Reservation for under-represented communities, a constitutionally enshrined goal, must be protected at all costs, even over the protests of privileged groups. But far too often, the implementation or expansion of reservation is tied to political expediency. The EWS reservation, which was announced mere months before the 2019 general election, is only the latest example in this trend.
Likewise, judicial scrutiny and overview of policies is a pivotal facet of India’s governance structure, but lengthy adjudication processes can have an impact on the functioning of critical services. Finally, it is a sorry commentary on the country when loud protests on the street are the only way for aggrieved groups to be heard. This has to change, or the country will find itself in similar conundrum again.