The Supreme Court on Thursday declared the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) unconstitutional. The Medical Council of India (MCI) and the Dental Council of India (DCI) had introduced the test for admission to graduate and postgraduate courses. Allowing a batch of petitions, a Bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices Anil R. Dave and Vikramajit Sen said in a majority 2-1 verdict that the test had the effect of depriving the States, state-run universities and all medical colleges and institutions, including those enjoying the constitutional protection, of their right to admit students to MBBS, BDS and postgraduate courses as per their own procedures, beliefs and dispensations, “which has been found by this court in the T.M.A. Pai Foundation case to be an integral facet of the right to administer.”
Writing the main judgment, the Chief Justice said: “In our view, the role attributed to, and the powers conferred on, the MCI and the DCI under … the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, and the Dentists Act, 1948, do not contemplate anything different, and are restricted to laying down standards which are uniformly applicable to all medical colleges and institutions … to ensure the excellence of medical education …”
The Bench said: “The role assigned to the MCI under Sections 10A and 19A (1) of the 1956 Act vindicates such a conclusion. As an offshoot …, we … have no hesitation in holding that the Medical Council of India is not empowered … to actually conduct the NEET.”
The Christian Medical College, Vellore; the States of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu; several associations of private medical colleges; DD Medical College and DD Hospital, Tamil Nadu; and various individual colleges had filed petitions in High Courts and obtained an interim stay on the applicability of the NEET to them. On the MCI’s petitions, these cases were transferred to the Supreme Court.
The Bench said admissions were part of the right of an educational institution to administer, and these could not be regulated except for laying down standards for maintaining excellence in education. In the case of aided institutions, the State and other authorities might direct that a certain percentage of students be admitted by methods other than the one adopted by the institution concerned. However, in unaided institutions, the right to admit students could not be interfered with except for laying down standards to maintain excellence.
“In the case of aided minority institutions, it has been held that the authority giving aid has the right to insist upon admission of a certain percentage of students not belonging to the minority community so as to maintain the balance of Article 19(2) and Article 30(1) of the Constitution. Even with regard to unaided minority institutions, the view is that while the majority of students to be admitted should be from the minority community concerned, a certain percentage from other communities should also be admitted to maintain the secular character of education in the country in what has been described as a ‘sprinkling effect’,” the Bench said.
Apart from the legal aspects, the Bench said, “there can be no controversy that the standard of education all over the country is not the same. Each State has its own system and pattern of education, including the medium of instruction. It cannot also be disputed that children in the metropolitan areas enjoy greater privileges than their counterparts in most of the rural areas as far as education is concerned, and the decision of the Central government to support a single entrance examination would perpetuate such divide in the name of … merit. In a single-window competition, the disparity in educational standards in different parts of the country cannot ensure a level-playing field.”