Supreme Court declines to put NEET ordinance on hold

Intervention by court will only confuse students, says Bench.

May 27, 2016 05:16 pm | Updated November 17, 2021 03:52 am IST - New Delhi

Medical graduates staging a demonstration in favour of NEET in Bengaluru. File photo

Medical graduates staging a demonstration in favour of NEET in Bengaluru. File photo

After stripping States of their authority to conduct undergraduate medical and dental entrance exams and compelling them to accept the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), the Supreme Court on Friday refrained from staying a government ordinance diluting its judicial order.

Despite pleas that the ordinance challenged the very authority of the highest judiciary, the apex court refused any immediate intervention. It argued that this would only confuse students and divert their attention from studies.

The ordinance, which received Presidential assent on May 24, partially eclipses the May 9 order of the Supreme Court by allowing State governments to conduct their own entrance exams alongside the NEET for this academic session alone.

The ordinance came after the apex court categorically declared that the NEET, a single window exam meant to end corruption and the ‘donation’ culture in medical admissions, is the only way to gain admission to the MBBS and the BDS courses across the country.

“There should be some certainty for students now. Moreover, the ordinance is only for this year,” the Vacation Bench of Justices P.C. Pant and D.Y. Chandrachud remarked.

This voice of restraint marks a shift from how the apex court had earlier dismissed the State governments’ objections to NEET as “teething difficulties.”

In tense court hearings during this month, several States had tried hard to convince the apex court that making the NEET the sole gateway to medical and dental studies was nothing short of interference in their prerogative to hold separate tests.

State governments like Gujarat had submitted that it would be “torture” to impose the NEET on students mentally prepared for State entrance exams. Tamil Nadu had highlighted the harshness of suddenly exposing their students to the highly competitive NEET, especially when the State had had no entrance exams since 2007.

States like Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana had invoked special provisions in the Constitution to extend their common contention that States have the sole legislative competence to conduct exams for the MBBS and the BDS courses.

The hearings had seen the Centre and the Medical Council of India, too, back the States’ plea to conduct exams as a “special case” for this year alone.

But a three-judge Bench led by Justice A.R. Dave had refused to budge and held that “prima facie, we do not find any infirmity in the NEET regulation on the ground that it affects the rights of the States and the private institutions.”

Reviving the NEET on April 28, the Bench had ordered the common entrance to be held in two phases. The first phase had replaced AIPMT on May 1 with 6.5 lakh students appearing for the exam. The second phase is scheduled on July 24.

Urgent hearing refused

The vacation Bench refused an urgent hearing to petitioner Anand Rai, posting his petition after the summer holidays, while the Centre, represented by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, agreed that there was no “earth-shattering” reason to take it up now.

Mr. Rai, who wants the ordinance to be eventually quashed, accused the Centre of making a volte-face.

But Mr. Rohatgi said the Centre had every authority to come up with an ordinance with only the welfare of the students in mind. It said that many of these State exams were already over or in the process of being held by the time Supreme Court passed its orders.

Meanwhile, Sankalp Charitable Trust, the NGO whose PIL petition led to the May 9 order, moved the Supreme Court separately on Friday against the ordinance, calling it “nothing but a transgression by the Executive on the exercise of judicial functions of the court.”

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