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Rs 8 Lakh Limit For EWS Making 'Unequals Equals' : Supreme Court To Centre In NEET-AIQ Case

Shruti Kakkar
21 Oct 2021 6:33 AM GMT
Rs 8 Lakh Limit For EWS Making Unequals Equals : Supreme Court To Centre In NEET-AIQ Case
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The Central Government had to face tough questions from the Supreme Court on Thursday over its decision to adopt the criteria of annual income of Rupees 8 lakhs for determining the eligibility for Economic Weaker Sections(EWS) reservation in the NEET-All India Quota.A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice BV Nagarathna expressed unhappiness at the Centre...

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The Central Government had to face tough questions from the Supreme Court on Thursday over its decision to adopt the criteria of annual income of Rupees 8 lakhs for determining the eligibility for Economic Weaker Sections(EWS) reservation in the NEET-All India Quota.

A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice BV Nagarathna expressed unhappiness at the Centre not filing an affidavit on the issue, although the Court had raised several doubts about the EWS criteria on the previous hearing date (October 7).

Today also, the bench sought to know what was the exercise undertaken by the Centre for adopting this criteria. Pointing out that Rs 8 lakh was the criteria for creamy layer for OBC reservation, the bench asked how the same criteria can be adopted for OBC and EWS categories, when the latter has no social and educational backwardness.

"You must have some demographic or sociological or socio-economic data. You just cannot pull out 8 lakh from thin air...you are making unequals equals by applying the Rs 8 lakh limit", Justice Chandrachud told Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj.

"In OBC, people who are below 8 lakh, they suffer from social & educational backwardness. Under the constitutional scheme, EWS are not socially & educationally backward", Justice Chandrachud pointed out.

While the bench agreed that the EWS criteria was ultimately a policy matter, it added that the Court is entitled to know the reasons adopted for arriving at a policy decision to determine its constitutionality.

The bench at one point even warned that it will stay the EWS notification.

"Please show us something. You had 2 weeks to file an affidavit. We can stay the notification & in the meanwhile you do something", Justice Chandrachud said.

However, the ASG pleaded to not stay the notification and undertook to file the affidavit at the earliest. The ASG submitted that he needed to get instructions from the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Department of Personnel and Training, which were added as respondents later. The petitions were filed only with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as the respondent. The ASG submitted that the draft of the affidavit was ready and will be filed within 2-3 days.

The bench passed an order formulating certain issues on which it sought specific responses from the Centre. The issues are :

1. Whether the Centre undertook any exercise before arriving at the criteria to determine EWS.

2.  If the answer is affirmative, is the criteria based on Sinho commission report. If so, place the report on record.

3. The income limit for determining creamy layer in OBC and EWS is  the same, that is Rs 8 lakhs annual income. In the OBC category, the economically advanced category is excluded as social backwardness diminishes.  In such a scenario, whether it would be arbitrary to provide similar income limit for EWS and OBC, as EWS has no concept of social and economic backwardness.

4.  Whether difference in rural and urban purchasing power has been accounted for while deriving this limit.

5.  On what basis asset exception has been arrived at and has any exercise been undertaken for the same.

6. Reason why residential flat criteria doesn't differentiate b/w metropolitan and non-metropolitan area.

The bench observed in the order that the Court must be apprised of on what basis has the EWS income criterion been arrived at.

"We make it clear that we are not entering area of policy but need the disclosure for adhering to constitutional principles", the bench clarified in its order.

The bench also pointed out in its order that as per the explanations to Articles 15(6) and 16(6), the State Governments notify the criteria for EWS.

The explanation included in 103rd Constitution amendment, under Articles 15 & 16 says that the economically weaker sections "shall be such as may be notified by the State from time to time on the basis of family income and other indicators of economic disadvantage".  In this backdrop, the bench asked the basis for the Centre notifying the EWS criteria on a uniform basis across the country.

The bench has posted the cases for further hearing on October 28.

The Court was considering a batch of petitions filed by NEET aspirants challenging the decision of the Central Government to introduce 27% OBC and 10% EWS reservation in the NEET-AIQ.

Case Titles: Neil Aurelio Nunes and Ors v Union of India and Ors; Yash Tekwani and Ors v Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) and Ors; Christina Ann Thomas & Anr v UOI


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