Unchanged: On EWS quota income norm

After much loss of time, SC allows EWS quota income norm to stay for this year

Updated - January 10, 2022 08:40 am IST

Published - January 10, 2022 12:02 am IST

It is a matter of considerable relief that the Supreme Court has allowed the commencement of counselling for post-graduate medical admissions under the all-India quota at a time when the long delay has caused a shortage of junior residents in the midst of an ongoing public health crisis. The Court’s decision to uphold the 27% quota for OBCs , with reasons to be adduced later, has also helped the cause of giving a push to the admission process, which was put on hold months ago. It is somewhat disappointing that despite several hearings and the deployment of an expert committee, the controversial criteria for the 10% Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) remain unchanged for admission for 2021-22. As early as October 25, the Union government offered to put on hold the admission process during the pendency of the challenge to the introduction of the OBC and EWS quotas by a July 29, 2021 notification. A month later, it informed the Court that it wanted to revisit the criteria for EWS. It was in response to the Court’s questions about the rationale of keeping the annual income criterion for the EWS quota at ₹8 lakh, the same income ceiling for those belonging to the OBC category to be eligible for reservation benefits. The time taken by the committee to reconsider the criteria and submit a report seems to have been in vain, as it has returned a recommendation that the existing norms be retained for the current year’s admissions.

The Bench, taking into account the fact that the admission process cannot be further delayed, has chosen to allow the admission to proceed based on the norms spelt out in the July notification. However, the validity of the expert panel’s recommendations will be decided when the Court takes up the matter in March. It makes one wonder why the Government postponed the counselling and took more than a month to get a panel to revisit the criteria, if it was ultimately going to press for the current year’s admission to be allowed without any change. The Court, on its part, felt compelled to defer to the Government on this point, considering the urgency of the situation, as the alternative was staying the EWS quota for this year’s admission. Its original point — that there cannot be a common income limit for those coming from a background of social and educational backwardness and those who are members of privileged classes, but with inadequate economic means — still stands. The outcome is that this year’s batch may suffer from ‘over-inclusion’ if the norms are revised downwards from next year onwards. While the norms for EWS quota may get tweaked over time, the question whether there ought to be any reservation for the advanced classes solely on the ground that they have insufficient means is still before the Constitution Bench. An early decision will be most welcome.

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