New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the government to conduct a countrywide common entrance test for undergraduate medical courses for the 2016-17 academic year in two phases starting May 1, brushing aside opposition from states and several private colleges.
In what appeared to be an interim order, a three-judge bench asked the second phase to be held on July 24 and said the combined results of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) would be declared on August 17 this year.
The directives followed a joint undertaking from the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the Medical Council of India (MCI) on the schedule for the common test.
“In view of the submissions made on behalf of the respondents, we record that the NEET shall be held as stated by the respondents. We further clarify that notwithstanding any order passed by any court earlier with regard to not holding the NEET, this order shall operate. Therefore, no further order is required to be passed at this stage,” the bench of Justices A.R. Dave, Shiva Kirti Singh and A.K. Goel said.
It means all parallel entrance exams being conducted in different parts of the country by states and private consortiums stand automatically nullified and that only the NEET will be the recognized exam for admission to medical colleges this year.
According to the note submitted by additional solicitor general Pinky Anand, who appeared for the CBSE, and senior counsel Vikas Singh, who represented the MCI, over 6.67 lakh candidates are set to appear for the first phase on May 1 from 1,040 centres in 52 cities, including Riyadh. No figures were available for the July 24 phase.
Thursdays’ order, which came on a public interest plea by an NGO, Sankalp Charitable Trust, complaining that private medical colleges were fleecing students and parents, however, appeared to be an interim ruling for this year.
The bench, headed by Justice Dave, “clarified” that hearing of pending petitions challenging the NEET would “not be affected” by its order, indicating that all such pleas would be heard later.
The order came a little over a fortnight after a five-judge Constitution bench had recalled a July 2013 judgment that had quashed the NEET, introduced by the MCI and the Dental Council of India for admission to graduate and postgraduate courses.
On July 18, 2013, a three-judge bench of then Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, who has since retired, and Justices Dave and Vikramjit Sen, who too has retired, had declared the NEET unconstitutional by a majority 2:1 decision. The dissenting order had come from Justice Dave, who held the NEET valid.
The Centre and the MCI were among those who had sought a review of that judgment, which had paved the way for private colleges to conduct their own exams.
On April 11 this year the Constitution bench, which also included Justice Dave, recalled the 2013 order on the ground that the 2:1 majority verdict had been passed without discussion among the three members on the bench. The Constitution bench allowed the review petitions and directed that the matter “be heard afresh”.
In its review plea, the MCI said if the 2013 judgment was not recalled, it would “seriously prejudice the progress of the process” of holding a common test that had been evolved over a period of more than five years of deliberations.
The Centre said ensuring uniform standards for medical education was of paramount interest to patients and the single-window system was a step in that direction.
The order came amid acrimony in the court hall after senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, who was appearing for some private medical colleges, told Justice Dave that he, as “a dissenting judge, is pushing his case”, alluding to the 2013 verdict.
Dhavan’s contention was Justice Dave should not hear the matter now.
But the bench, unruffled by the criticism, proceeded to pass the order directing the common test to be held on May 1 and July 24.
Earlier, senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, who appeared for some private medical colleges in Karnataka, had argued that the matter should not be heard in such a hurry and each state has to be heard separately.
Senior counsel L. Nageswara Rao, who appeared for Tamil Nadu, said qualifying marks in the Class XII state board exam was being considered for admissions to medical colleges keeping in view the interests of poor and rural students.
Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, too, argued that states should be allowed to conduct their own entrance exams.