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SC recalls 2013's controversial, potentially-leaked NEET order

Recalling its earlier order, the Supreme Court on Monday said admission to private medical colleges will be on the basis of entrance tests conducted under the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), which was possibly leaked according to advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, who had criticised then-Chief Justice Altamas Kabir on Bar & Bench in 2013 for allegedly not keeping a tight enough lid on the judgment (Sankaranarayanan had closely predicted the number of pages in the judgment).

Allowing the plea for the review of its 18 July, 2013 order, the constitution bench of Justice Anil R Dave, Justice AK Sikri, Justice RK Agrawal, Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice R Banumathi recalled the 2013 verdict that paved the way for the private medical college not to admit the students coming through NEET and directed fresh hearing of the matter.

The recall means that now more than 600 privately-run and minority medical institutions will have to draw their students from the list of the successful candidate who had appeared for NEET and they would not be able to conduct their own entrance examinations.

The review was sought by the MCI and AP Private Medical and Dental Colleges.

Recalling the order, the bench said: “After giving our thoughtful and due consideration, we are of the view that the judgment delivered in Christian Medical College (supra) needs reconsideration. We do not propose to state reasons in detail at this stage so as to see that it may not prejudicially affect the hearing of the matters.”

It also recorded that the judgment recalled had not taken into consideration some of the “binding precedents” and there was no discussion among the three judges before the pronouncement of the judgment.

The then bench of then Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice Vikramajit Sen (both now retired) and Justice Dave by a majority judgment of two had quashed the MCI notifcation for coming entrance test through NEET However, Justice Dave had differed.

Pronouncing the majority judgment, then Chief Justice Kabir said: “We also have no hesitation in holding that the Medical Council of India is not empowered under the 1956 Act to actually conduct the NEET” and introducing it was beyond its domain as the ‘Regulations on Graduate Medical Education (Amendment) 2010 (Part II)’ and the ‘Post Graduate Medical Education (Amendment) Regulation, 2010 (Part II)’ were ultra vires the provisions of articles 19(1)(g), 25, 26(a), 29(1) and 30(1) of the constitution.

The majority judgment questioned the practical aspect of holding a single NEET as “in a single window competition, the disparity in educational standards in different parts of the country cannot ensure a level playing field”.

On the other hand, Justice Dave in his dissenting minority judgment had held “it cannot be said that introduction of the NEET would either violate any of the fundamental or legal rights of the petitioners or even adversely affect the medical profession”.

“In my opinion, introduction of the NEET would ensure more transparency and less hardship to the students eager to join the medical profession,” he said, wondering how the autonomy of the said institutions would be adversely affected because of the NEET

The petitioners seeking the recall of 18 July order had contended that the majority judgment had “failed to appreciate that a common test would not frustrate the fundamental rights guaranteed under articles 25, 26, 29, and 30 of the constitution”.

It had further contended by them that the majority judgment had “made an error in not appreciating that a common entrance test can by no stretch of imagination curtail the fundamental right to carry own profession guaranteed under article 19 (1) (g)” and the “right to carry own profession by running a business of medical institution cannot grant unfettered right of admitting undeserving students”.

It is for the apex body of the professionals like MCI or DCI to decide as to what type of students should undergo the professional training,” it added.

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