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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday posed tough questions to the Union government, asking how it had arrived at the decision to adopt annual income of Rs 8 lakh as the criteria for determining eligibility for the economically weaker sections (EWS) reservation in admission for medical courses.
The court asked the government if it would like to revisit the limit, clarifying that it is not embarking into the policy domain but is only trying to ascertain whether constitutional principles have been adhered to or not.
A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Vikram Nath, and B.V. Nagarathna was annoyed that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT) did not file any affidavits since the last hearing on October 7.
According to LiveLaw, the court pointed out that Rs 8 lakh was the criteria for ‘creamy layer’ for OBCs and asked how the same criteria can be adopted for EWS 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 Rs 8 lakh from thin air…you are making unequals equals by applying the Rs 8 lakh limit,” Justice Chandrachud told additional solicitor general K.M. 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 said.
The bench said, “Tell us if you want to revisit the criteria or not. If you want us to discharge our duties, then we are ready to do so. We are formulating questions which you need to answer them.”
The bench also noted that it may stay the government’s July 29 notification fixing Rs 8 lakh as criteria for determining the EWS.
The top court was hearing a batch of pleas challenging the notice issued by the Union government and the Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) providing 27% reservation for OBC and 10% for EWS categories in National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) admissions for medical courses.
ASG Natarajan requested the court not to stay the notification, submitting that he needed to get instructions from the Ministry of Social Welfare and DOPT, which were added as respondents later. Only with the health ministry was filed as the respondent. The ASG said that the draft affidavit is ready and will be filed in 2-3 days.
According to LiveLaw, the bench formulated certain issues on which specific responses were sought from the Union government. The questions were:
1. Whether the Centre undertook any exercise before arriving at the criteria to determine EWS?
2. If the answer is in the affirmative, is the criteria based on the Sinho commission report. If so, place the report on record. [The Major General (retd) S.R. Sinho commission was constituted by the UPA government in 2010 and had recommended welfare measures for the EWS category.]
3. The income limit for determining creamy layer in OBC and EWS is the same, that is Rs 8 lakh 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 the 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. The reason why residential flat criteria doesn’t differentiate between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas?
The top court asked the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and DOPT to file their replies by October 28.
The bench said that it will not dictate to the government what the limit should be. That is for the executive to decide, but the court wants to know how the Rs 8 lakh figure was arrived at.
The bench also noted that as per the explanation in the 103rd constitution amendment, criteria for EWS will be notified by the state governments. Then how can the Union government notify a uniform EWS criterion for the whole of the country, it asked.
During the previous hearing on October 7, the top court had also posed searching questions to the Union government on the decision to fix Rs eight lakh annual income as the limit for determining the EWS category for reservation in NEET admissions.
The government had then said that this decision is a matter of policy based on the National Cost of Living Index.
On September 17, the top court had agreed to hear a batch of pleas of students against the July 29 notice providing 27% reservation for OBC and 10% for EWS category in 15% UG and 50% PG All India Quota seats (MBBS/BDS and MD/MS/MDS) with effect from the current 2021-22 academic year.
(With PTI inputs)