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Ergo Update

11-May-2020

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India (Supreme Court), comprising Mr Justice Arun Mishra, Mr Justice Vineet Saran and Mr Justice M R Shah has, vide judgment dated 29 April 2020 passed in the matter of Christian Medical College Vellore Association v. Union of India and Others [Transferred Case (Civil) No 98 of 2012], held that the provisions of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 (Act) and regulation cannot be said to be ultra vires or taking away the rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India (Constitution) under Article 30(1) read with Articles 19(1)(g), 14, 25, 26 and 29(1).

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

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Two notifications, each dated 21 December 2010, issued by the Medical Council of India (MCI) and other two notifications dated 31 May 2012 issued by the Dental Council of India (DCI) were questioned before the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court. The veracity of the aforementioned four notifications (Impugned Notifications) was challenged before the Supreme Court for being violative of the rights of the minority (aided and/or unaided) educational institutions.

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The MCI issued notifications in exercise of its power under the Act. The amendments were made in the Regulation on Graduate Medical Education, 1997 (Regulation) for selection of candidates for the (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Science (MBBS) course and Post­Graduate (PG) course. The notifications issued by DCI also provided for procedure for Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) and Master of Dental Surgery (MDS).

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As a result, the National Eligibility­cum­Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to the MBBS course and PG course and for BDS and MDS was introduced. The relevant amendment by way of Section 10D under the Act came into effect on 24 May 2016 for the common test for MBBS and PG courses. Section 10D of the Dentist Act, 1948 (Dentist Act) containing similar provisions for the common entrance test was also inserted with respect to the common course for BDS and MDS.

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Various questions were raised on the power of MCI and DCI to conduct NEET as it appeared to offend Article 19(1) (g) of the Constitution and the rights of religious and linguistic minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice as guaranteed under Article 30 of the Constitution.

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Accordingly, the present matter along with other connected matters were filed for consideration before the Supreme Court.

ISSUE FOR CONSIDERATION BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT

The Supreme Court evaluated whether by providing centralised examination system – NEET for admission to MBBS, PG, BDS and MDS by virtue of the provisions made in the Act and Regulation, there was a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19(1)(g), 25, 26, 29(1) and 30 of the Constitution of India.

MAIN ARGUMENTS RAISED ON BEHALF OF THE PETITIONER

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The petitioner urged that the Impugned Notifications violated the fundamental rights of an unaided minority institution to “establish and administer educational institutions of

their choice” protected under Article 30 read with Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution, which provides the right to admit students of their own choice.

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It was further urged on behalf of the petitioner that the State has no power to compel an unaided minority institution to admit students through a single centralized examination such as NEET. The unaided minority professional colleges have the fundamental rights to choose the method and manner to admit its students, subject to satisfying the triple test of having a fair, transparent, and non-exploitative process.

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Lastly, it was contended that although the State, while imposing reasonable restrictions can fix the threshold criterion of merit, it cannot restrict the petitioner from having any additional criteria of merit over and above the threshold fixed by the State. Consequently, such a restriction violates the test of proportionality.

MAIN ARGUMENTS RAISED ON BEHALF OF THE RESPONDENTS

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Section 10D had been inserted in the Act which provides that there shall be a uniform common entrance conducted by the designated authority. Consequently, the introduction of NEET is constitutionally valid.

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The Impugned Notifications, which are questioned in the matters and the amendment made to Section 10D as introduced in the Act and Regulation as amended by the MCI and similar provisions inserted in the Dentist Act, cannot be said to be taking away the rights of the unaided minority institutions or private institutions of making  admission in any manner as it is permissible to provide regulatory mechanism at the national level.

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The Government/ State cannot be prevented from framing regulations that are in the national interest.

JUDGMENT

The Supreme Court, while disposing of the petition, held:

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The regulatory measures under the Act and the Regulation cannot be said to be averse to the interest of such institutions, and such reasonable measures can be carved out. Additionally, these regulatory measures do not impinge upon the rights of institutions guaranteed under Articles 14, 19(1)(g), 25 and 30 of the Constitution.

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The provisions to be reasonable conditions of recognition/ affiliation are binding for the very existence of all such institutions whether they are run by majority or minority failing which they cannot exists and impart education. The conditions are reasonable and cannot be said to be taking away any of the constitutional rights of minority institutions.

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The Constitution provides a limitation on the power of the State to interfere with life, liberty and rights however, the concept of limited government cannot be extended to a level when it defeats national interest. The regulatory framework created by the Act/ Dentist Act is concomitant of conditions, affiliation and recognition, and providing central examination in the form of NEET cannot be said to be violative of the rights under Articles 19(1)(g) and 30 of the Constitution.

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The uniform entrance examination cannot be said to be unreasonable regulatory framework. Considering the terms and conditions for affiliation and recognition for professional medical and such other professional courses are binding, and no relaxation can be permitted in the conditions.

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The rights under Articles 19(1)(g) and 30 read with Articles 25, 26 and 29(1) of the Constitution do not come in the way of securing transparency and recognition of merits in the matter of admissions. It is open to the State to regulate the course of study, qualifications for ensuring educational standards and imposing reasonable restrictions in the national and public interest.

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Resultantly, it was held that there is no violation of the rights of the unaided/aided minority to administer institutions under Articles 19(1)(g) and 30 read with Articles 25, 26 and 29(1) of the Constitution by prescribing the uniform examination of NEET for admissions in the graduate and postgraduate professional courses of medical as well as dental science. The provisions of the Act and Regulation cannot be said to be ultra vires or taking away the rights guaranteed under the Constitution under Article 30(1) read with Articles 19(1)(g), 14, 25, 26 and 29(1).

COMMENT

The judgment delivered by the Supreme Court puts to rest the uncertainties that had crept up on the aforesaid issue, clarifying that the rights under Article 19(1)(g) are not absolute and subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of the student community in order to promote merit, recognition of excellence, and to curb the malpractices. The rights of religious minorities under Article 30 of the Constitution also has been clarified to be not in conflict with other parts of the Constitution as balancing the rights is constitutional intendment in the national interest.

-       Ajay Bhargava (Partner) and Trishala Trivedi (Senior Associate)

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Ajay Bhargava (partners)

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