The Supreme Court on Wednesday while giving the verdict in the case ‘Christian Medical College, Vellore vs Union of India’ upheld the National Eligibilty-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for graduate and post-graduate programs in medical and dental courses in the country.
While giving the verdict the benchcomprising of Justices Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran and M R Shah held that prescribing a uniform examination like NEET for admissions in medical & dental courses did not violate rights of unaided/aided minority institutions under Articles 19(1) (g) & 30 read with 25, 26 & 29(1) of Constitution.
The petitions which were originally filed in 2012 had challenged the constitutional validity of the NEET notifications issued by the Medical Council of India and the Dental Council of India.
Later when these were incorporated as statutory provisions in 2016 as Sections 10D of the Medical Council of India Act and the Dentists Act, the same were also challenged in subsequent writ petitions.
Upholding the constitutional validity of these statutory provisions and regulations, the bench held that NEET was introduced to weed out corruption in admission processes, and also to set a uniform standard across the nation.
Rejecting the argument that NEET infringed the right to freedom of trade and business of educational institutions under Article 19(1)(g), the bench observed:
“The rights under Article 19(1)(g) are not absolute and are subject to reasonable restriction in the interest of the student’s community to promote merit, recognition of excellence, and to curb the malpractices. Uniform Entrance Test qualifies the test of proportionality and is reasonable. The same is intended to check several maladies which crept into medical education, to prevent capitation fee by admitting students which are lower in merit and to prevent exploitation, profiteering, and commercialisation of education”.
The Court stated that such uniform Entrance Examination could not be said to be unreasonable regulatory framework.
“There is no right given to maladminister the education derogatory to the national interest. The quality of medical education is imperative to subserve the national interest, and the merit cannot be compromised.”
The bench reasoned that individual examinations by some institutions in place of these uniform exams would affect the national standards.
It said, “To weed out evils from the system, which were eating away fairness in admission process, defeating merit and aspiration of the common incumbent with no means, the State has the right to frame regulatory regime for aided/ unaided minority/ private institutions as mandated by Directives Principles, Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.”
No violation of minority rights
While holding that NEET did not infringe upon the rights of minority institutions under Articles 29(1) and 30 of the Constitution the bench observed,
“The rights of the religious or linguistic minorities under Article 30 are not in conflict with other parts of the Constitution. Balancing the rights is constitutional intendment in the national and more enormous public interest. Regulatory measures cannot be said to be exceeding the concept of limited governance. The regulatory measures in question are for the improvement of the public health and is a step, in furtherance of the directive principles enshrined in Articles 47 and 51(A)(j) and enable the individual by providing full opportunity in pursuance of his objective to excel in his pursuit. The rights to administer an institution under Article 30 of the Constitution are not above the law and other Constitutional provisions. Reasonable regulatory measures can be provided without violating such rights available under Article 30 of the Constitution to administer an institution.
Professional educational institutions constitute a class by themselves. Specific measures to make the administration of such institutions transparent can be imposed. The rights available under Article 30 are not violated by provisions carved out in Section 10D of the MCI Act and the Dentists Act and Regulations framed by MCI/DCI. The regulatory measures are intended for the proper functioning of institutions and to ensure that the standard of education is maintained and does not fall low under the guise of an exclusive right of management to the extent of maladministration.
The regulatory measures by prescribing NEET is to bring the education within the realm of charity which character it has lost. It intends to weed out evils from the system and various malpractices which decayed the system. The regulatory measures in no way interfere with the rights to administer the institution by the religious or linguistic minorities.”
NEET was initially struck down in 2013 but later the judgment was recalled for review
The NEET notifications of 2012 were initially struck down by a 3-judge bench on July 18, 2013, with 2:1 majority by a bench comprising of then Chief Justice Altamis Kabir and Justice Vikramjeet Sen and Justice Anil R Dave.
The majority held that MCI and DCI did not have the power to introduce NEET through notifications. It was also held that that NEET violated the rights of minority educational institutions.
Later, in 2016, a 5-judge bench headed by Justice Anil R Dave recalled the 2013 judgment for review, and opened the cases for fresh-hearing.
In the meantime the Court had also permitted the conducting of NEET for admissions.