When Rohit Vinod applied for NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) this year, the online form asked him to select his nationality and the Indian citizen, who is a Kuwaiti resident, selected the “NRI” option. However, on the next page that asked him to select the category, he was only given the option of “general”, although he had expected to be able to opt for Other Backward Classes and avail of the reservation for students from that community.
His case, now pending with the Kerala High Court, raises the question of whether NRIs are eligible for community reservation. Senior Health Ministry officials say they are operating on the principle of one candidate being able to opt for only one quota category, even if eligible for multiple categories.
“Why should NRIs be denied community-based reservation? Are we not Indian citizens who are guaranteed constitutional rights? Why are we being treated similar to the foreigners category?” asked his father Vinod Karthikeyan in a recent phone interview. As a high-scoring school topper, Rohit hoped to enter one of the country’s best institutions via the OBC quota.
Shiv, another 18-year-old NRI based in a Gulf country who did not want to be identified with a surname, discovered the opposite problem. When he selected “Indian” under nationality while applying for NEET last year, he was not eligible for the NRI quota seats offered by deemed universities as well as some Central medical institutions, including the prestigious JIPMER. When he applied again this year, he was about to choose “NRI” before being told that this would not allow him to opt for the OBC quota. “NRI should not be an option under the nationality category at all. Non-Resident Indians still hold Indian citizenship and nationality and are only counted as NRIs for tax purposes,” said his father.
When Rohit took his case to the Kerala High Court earlier this month, he won an interim order on August 13 that directed the Health Ministry and the National Testing Agency (NTA) which conducts the NEET to change his application “in such a fashion that he is able to claim admission to MBBS course against the quota marked for OBC-NCL in the event of selection”. However, NTA has so far failed to make the needed changes, said Mr. Karthikeyan, noting that the exam would be held on September 12.
In its affidavit to the court, the NTA held that including OBC category for NRI candidates was “not sustainable”. “NRI is already a separate reserved category for the MBBS course. The petitioner cannot be given the benefit of sub-reservation,” it stated.
Mr. Karthikeyan noted that constitutionally, vertical reservation was allowed only for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), while horizontal reservation was allowed for Persons with Disability (PwD) in all categories, including general merit. NRI seats were only a provision made for students with NRI sponsors, and was not to be considered as a reservation, he observed.
A senior official from the National Medical Commission (NMC) agreed that the application portal could be changed to allow NRI students to opt for community-based reservation, but insisted they could not then be eligible for NRI quota seats as well.
“We have operated on the principle that one candidate cannot apply for multiple quotas. Otherwise, tomorrow we should not see SC students also applying under EWS,” said another senior Health Ministry official. “This is the thinking so far. But it is a policy decision and the NMC is the regulatory body which has to take a stand. Let’s see what they say in court,” added the official.