The Supreme Court in Christian Medical College Vellore Association vs Union of India and Ors held that the quality of medical education is imperative to sub-serve the national interest, and the merit cannot be compromised.
Thus, a uniform examination of NEET for admissions in the graduate and postgraduate professional courses of medical as well as dental science was held mandatory.
Brief facts of the case
The petitioners have questioned four notifications two notifications dated 21.12.2010 issued by Medical Council of India (“the MCI”) and other two notifications dated 31.5.2012, issued by Dental Council of India (“the DCI”).
The matters filed in 2012-2013 were heard by a Bench of three Judges, and the matters were decided vide judgment and order dated 18.7.2013. As per the majority opinion, the petitions were allowed. The notifications issued by MCI and DCI providing for NEET were quashed. However, the admissions, which were made, were not interfered with. Review petitions were filed, which were entertained and were ultimately allowed on 11.4.2016, and judgment dated 18.7.2013 was recalled.
The petitioners had made prayer to protect the rights of the petitioner institutions guaranteed under Articles 14, 15, 25, 26 and 30 of the Constitution of India and to direct the respondents to conduct centralized counselling for admission to all Graduate Medical and Dental Courses throughout the country. It is also stated that vires of the provisions of Maharashtra Unaided Private Professional Educational Institution (Regulation of Admissions & Fees) Act, 2015, applying them to Unaided Private Minority Professional Educational Institutions are bad in law. Further, provisions have been questioned on the ground that they cannot take away the rights guaranteed under Articles 19(1)(g) and 30 read with Articles 25, 26 and 29(1) of the Constitution of India.
The questions were raised that MCI and DCI could not have introduced NEET as the same offends the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India and the rights of religious and linguistic minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice as guaranteed under Article 30 Constitution of India.
Thus, subordinate legislation could not have overriding effect over the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 25, 26, 29(1), and 30 of the Constitution of India. Now the amendment made could not take away or abridge the aforesaid rights of minorities. The right to admit students is one of the fundamental rights, thus, rider of clearing NEET examination could not have been imposed.
The primary issue is whether by providing centralized examination system – NEET for admission to MBBS, PG, BDS and MDS by virtue of the provisions made in the Act and regulations, there 20 is a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19(1)(g), 25, 26, 29(1) and 30 of the Constitution of India.
Arguments before the court
It was urged on behalf of petitioners that the impugned notifications violate 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 of India, which includes the right to admit students of their own choice.
The doctrine of limited Government provides that a citizen’s liberty and autonomy is the central notion of the Constitution of India and there is an inherent limitation on the State’s involvement in matters of admissions of students. The NEET prescribes no alternative to the institution, impinges upon the fundamental rights of an unaided minority institution to establish and administer educational institution of their choice.
It was further urged that the State has no power to compel an unaided minority institution to admit students through a single centralized national examination such as NEET. The unaided minority professional colleges have the fundamental rights to choose the method and manner in which to admit its students, subject to satisfying the triple test of having a fair, transparent, and non-exploitative process.
It was argued that they have a time-tested admission procedure without any complaints. Their process is fair and transparent, and they have a fundamental right to protect autonomy and reputation by continuing to admit students using their admission process. The NEET cannot be the only parameter to determine the merit of a student. Some of the institutions are providing best medical professional by having their procedure for admission. They have fundamental rights under Articles 19(1)(g) and 30(1) of the Constitution to conduct and manage the affairs of the institution. The State, while imposing reasonable restrictions, can fix the threshold criterion of merit, but cannot restrict the petitioners from having any additional criteria of merit over and above the threshold fixed by the State. The restriction violates the test of proportionality.
The petitioners have also referred to the existing position concerning centralized examination for professional courses in India and internationally, to hold entrance examination cannot be compulsion, it has to be voluntary. They have relied upon Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) a system of examination for admission in the Law Colleges. Reference has also been made to the admission process followed in Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), National Institute of Technology (NITs) and Indian Institute of Management (IIMs). NEET is the first of its kind, both in India and globally, where all institutions are compelled by the State to follow a single admission procedure.
Some of the institutions are having an excellent record. They follow the gurukul tradition. With the introduction of NEET in 2016-17, institutions have been compelled to admit students through NEET instead of their method. Some of them have the All India Entrance Test. They have their unique procedure of admission for MBBS as well as Post Graduation. The system of examination of some of the institutions is wider on All India Basis, and they test general ability also, whereas, in NEET, evaluation is based on three subjects, namely, Physics, Biology, and Chemistry.
They have an elaborate procedure of the assessment, and they do not admit students only based on their theoretical knowledge. Some of them are the best medical educational institutions in the country. There is not even a single allegation of maladministration against some of the reputed institutions. The principles, which govern the selection, are eligibility, suitability, and distributive justice. The selection of candidates is an important factor to the medical colleges to suit their requirements in a particular field.
There are various issues which have arisen according to the admission given for postgraduate examination after the introduction of NEET. Now, in some of the specialized institutions, they are not getting good doctors to take care of patients, for example, in the Oncology Department. Some of the candidates are not able to bear the burden of the procedure and have expressed their inability to go with very sick patients. Some of them were not able to undertake procedures in a sterile manner to avoid infections. Similar is the position in other super-speciality departments. There are complaints of lack of clinical competence among students admitted to speciality courses like general medicine.
The petitioners further submitted that they have a fundamental right to admit students of their own choice under Article 30 of the Constitution. It is submitted that the admission procedure adopted by them passes the triple test, i.e., fair, transparent, and non-exploitative. Various orders were passed by this Court recognizing fair method adopted in individual institutions while admitting students through their admission procedure as apparent from interim orders passed in the years 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1998.
Reliance has been placed on the T.M.A. Pai Foundation and Ors. vs. State of Karnataka and Ors to contend that State has minimal interference and if possible, to be made only to maintain academic standards. The right to admit students is one of the fundamental rights recognized by this Court.
It was further argued that provisions of the MCI and DCI Acts and regulations which have been amended during the pendency of the petitions cannot take away the right of the institutions to admit their students under Article 30 of the Constitution of India. Thus, the prescription of NEET cannot be said to be permissible for the institutions in question.
On behalf of respondents, reliance has been placed on Sankalp Charitable Trust and Ors. vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors, Modern Dental College and Research Centre and Ors. vs. State of Madhya Pradesh and Ors and P.A. Inamdar and Ors. vs. State of Maharashtra and Ors. It was also argued that Section 10D has been inserted in the Act of 1956 it provides that there shall be a uniform common entrance conducted by the designated authority. The main reasoning of this Court in Christian Medical College Vellore and Ors. vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors, which decision has been recalled, was that uniform common entrance examination could not be introduced by way of subordinate legislation and under the Act of 1956 and MCI had no power to conduct the said examination.
After the introduction of Section 10D, both the said lacunas have been plugged. The introduction of NEET is constitutionally valid. In Modern Dental College and Research Centre, the Court considered the question of the conduct of examination by private medical colleges in the State of Madhya Pradesh for admitting students in their colleges.
The Court again in the State of Maharashtra and Ors. vs. D.Y. Patil Vidyapeeth and Ors decided on 28.9.2016 reiterated that the decision in Modern Dental College and Research Centre makes it unequivocally clear that centralized counselling is an adjunct and part of the uniform common entrance test. The notifications were also challenged by minority institutions, deemed Universities, and other private institutions by filing writ petitions in this Court.
As such, their right to admit students of their community was fully protected. The institutions were entitled to fill students of minority quota in their respective medical colleges. NEET is a qualifying examination to determine merit and also ensure fair procedure and equality of opportunity that most meritorious candidates get admitted in the medical and dental courses. Reliance has been placed on Yatinkumar Jasubhai Patel and Ors. vs. State of Gujarat and Ors, in which the Court considered the question of institutional preference/reservation after the introduction of NEET, and observed that introduction of NEET did not affect 50% State quota seats in PG medicine course. It may be filled based on institutional reservation.
Supreme Court’s View
The court while taking note that various decisions rendered by this Court in respect of the right of minority as stated under Article 30 of the Constitution of India, held that the choice of an institution does not mean that the minorities could establish an educational institution for the benefit of their community people.
In T.M.A. Pai Foundation, the Court held that some system of computing equivalence between different kinds of qualifications like a common entrance test, would not violate the rights conferred. The unaided minority institutions under Article 30(1) of the Constitution of India have the right to admit students, but the merit may be determined by a common entrance test and the rights under Article 30(1) is not absolute to prevent the Government from making any regulations. The Government cannot be prevented from framing regulations that are in the national interest.
However, the safeguard is that the Government cannot discriminate any minority institution and put them in a disadvantageous position vis-a-vis to other educational institutions and has to maintain the concept of equality in real sense. The minority institutions must be allowed to do what non-minority institutions are permitted. It is open to State/concerned bodies to frame regulations with respect to affiliation and recognition, to provide a proper academic atmosphere.
It was also held that the Government or the University can lay down the regulatory measures ensuring educational standards and maintaining excellence and more so, in the matter of admission to the professional institutions. It may not interfere with the rights so long as the admissions to the unaided minority institutions are on a transparent basis and the merit is adequately taken care of.
Dealing with unaided minority educational institutions in this case, the court observed that Article 30 does not come in the way of the State stepping in to secure transparency and recognition of merit in the matter of admissions. Regulatory measures for ensuring educational standards can be framed. In the case of professional education, transparency and merit have to be unavoidably taken care of and cannot be compromised.
In Modern Dental College and Research Centre, the Constitution Bench of this Court considered the provisions of Articles 19(1)(g), 19(6), 26 and 30 in relation to the right to freedom of occupation of private unaided minority and nonminority educational institutions. This Court observed that the activity of education is neither trade nor profession, i.e., commercialization and profiteering cannot be permitted. It is open to imposing reasonable restrictions in the interest of the general public. The education cannot be allowed to be a purely economic activity; it is a welfare activity aimed at achieving more egalitarian and prosperous society to bring out social transformation and upliftment of the nation.
This Court further opined that private unaided minority and nonminority institutions have a right to occupation under Article 19(1), the said right is not absolute and subject to reasonable restriction in the larger public interest of students community to promote merit, achieve excellence and curb malpractices by holding common entrance test for admission and fee structure can undoubtedly be regulated in such institutions.
This Court in the case also held that unless the admission procedure and fixation of fees are regulated and controlled at the initial stage, the evil of unfair practice of granting admission on available seats guided by the paying capacity of the candidates would be impossible to curb. The Court also noted the menace of the fee prevailing in the various educational professional institutions and in the context of Articles 19(1)(g), 19(6), 30, 41 and 47, and considering the Schedule VII, Entry 25 of List III and Entry 6366 of List I, this Court held that concerning “professional unaided minority” and “nonminority institutions”, common entrance test has to be conducted by the State and regulation of the fee structure by it is permissible.
The Court further considered the criteria of proportionality and emphasized for the proper balance between the two facets viz. the rights and limitations imposed upon it by a statute. The concept of proportionality is an appropriate criterion. The law imposing restrictions will be treated as proportional if it is meant to achieve a proper purpose. If the measures taken to achieve such a goal are rationally connected to the object, such steps are necessary.
The Court in the case while considering the decision in T.M.A. Pai Foundation opined that Court did not give complete freedom to admit the students and also as to fixation of fee. Admission has to be based on merit, particularly in professional educational institutions.
This Court also considered the balancing of rights even if there is a violation of fundamental rights of the appellants to admit students by the Central Examination Test by State.
The notifications, which are questioned in the matters and the amendment made to Section 10D as introduced in the Act of 1956 and regulations as amended by the MCI and similar provisions inserted in the Dentists Act & Regulations, cannot be said to be taking away the rights of the unaided minority institutions or private institutions of making the admission in any manner as it is permissible to provide a regulatory mechanism at the national level.
It is open to provide the regulatory mechanism for admission for such courses as held in T.M.A. Pai Foundation the qualification and conditions of eligibility in the interest of academic standards can be provided, and there could be regulatory measures for ensuring educational standards and maintaining excellence in the matter of professional institution. Thus, the decision, in this case, rendered by 11 Judge Bench is juxtaposed to the submission raised on behalf of petitioners. In this case, Court opined that State maintained or aided educational institutions, whether established by the Government or the majority or a minority community cannot deny admission to a citizen on the grounds only of religion, race, caste or language.
It further observed that the right under Article 30(1) is not so absolute as to prevent the State from making any regulation whatsoever. The Government cannot be prevented from framing regulations that are in the national interest.
It was argued that certain colleges have produced doctors of renowned fame, and they are an asset for India. But, when it comes to the eradication of the malpractices that have crept into the system, we have to take into consideration the larger interest of the education countrywide.
The NEET has been prescribed by the Legislature in the larger public interest that has to prevail. We find the provisions to be reasonable conditions of recognition/ affiliation are binding for the very existence of all such institution whether they are run by majority or minority failing which they cannot exist and impart education. The conditions are reasonable and cannot be said to be taking away any of the constitutional rights of minority institutions, they are reasonable, fair and intended to bring transparency in the professional education imparted by institutions. They are applicable for all institutions alike minorities are not placed on a disadvantageous platform.
It observed that it is not reasonable to claim that minority institutions will have complete autonomy. Some checks may be necessary and will serve the academic needs of the institution. A correlative duty of good administration is attached to the right to administer an educational institution. Thus, the court opined that it is apparent the intendment is to ensure fairness in the selection, recognition of merit, and the interests of the students. In the national interest, educational institutions are basically for a charitable purpose. By and large, at present education is devoid of its real character of charity, it has become a commodity.
To weed out evils from the system, which were eating away fairness in the admission process, defeating merit and aspiration of the common incumbent with no means, the State has the right to frame regulatory regime for aided/ unaided minority/ private institutions as mandated by Directives Principles, Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. And that the first step has been taken to weed out the evils from the system, and it would not be in the national interest to step back considering the overall scenario. It stated, “If we revert to the old system, posterity is not going to forgive us.”
The court placed reliance on the case of St. Stephen’s College and Ors. vs. The University of Delhi and Ors, it was held that there has to be balancing of interest of rights of minorities. It was observed that 50% of the annual admission has to be given to the members of communities other than the minority community based on merit. Regulations that serve the interest in standards of education amongst the recognized institutions could validly be made. Such general patterns and standards are the need, and such regulation shall not have the effect of depriving the right of minorities to educate their children in their institution.
Further, it is not possible to prescribe further examination over and above NEET that cannot be said to be workable, no exemption can be granted from NEET, considering the objective with which it has been introduced. We find that the uniform Entrance Examination cannot be said to be an 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.
Thus, we believe that rights under Articles 19(1)(g) and 30 read with Articles 25, 26 and 29(1) of the Constitution of India do not come in the way of securing transparency and recognition of merits in the matter of admissions. It is open to regulating the course of study, qualifications for ensuring educational standards. It is open to imposing reasonable restrictions in the national and public interest.
The rights under Article 19(1)(g) are not absolute and are subject to reasonable restriction in the interest of the student’s community to promote merit, recognition of excellence, and to curb the malpractices. Uniform Entrance Test qualifies the test of proportionality and is reasonable. The minority institutions are equally bound to comply with the conditions imposed under the relevant Acts and Regulations to enjoy affiliation and recognition, which apply to all institutions. In case they have to impart education, they are bound to comply with the conditions which are equally applicable to all. The regulations are necessary, and they are not divisive or disintegrative. Such regulatory measures enable institutions to administer them efficiently.
There is no right given to mal-administer the education derogatory to the national interest. The Government has the right to providing regulatory measures that are in the national interest, more so in view of Article 19(6) of the Constitution of India.
The rights of the religious or linguistic minorities under Article 30 are not in conflict with other parts of the Constitution. Balancing the rights is constitutional intendment in the national and more enormous public interest. Regulatory measures cannot be said to be exceeding the concept of limited governance.
The rights to administer an institution under Article 30 of the Constitution are not above the law and other Constitutional provisions. Reasonable regulatory measures can be provided without violating such rights available under Article 30 of the Constitution to administer an institution. Professional educational institutions constitute a class by themselves. Specific measures to make the administration of such institutions transparent can be imposed. The rights available under Article 30 are not violated by provisions carved out in Section 10D of the MCI Act and the Dentists Act and Regulations framed by MCI/DCI.
The regulatory measures are intended for the proper functioning of institutions and to ensure that the standard of education is maintained and does not fall low under the guise of an exclusive right of management to the extent of maladministration. The regulatory measures by prescribing NEET is to bring the education within the realm of charity which character it has lost. It intends to weed out evils from the system and various malpractices which decayed the system. The regulatory measures in no way interfere with the rights to administer the institution by the religious or linguistic minorities.
Resultantly, the court 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 of India 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 of India under Article 30(1) read with Articles 19(1)(g), 14, 25, 26 and 29(1). Accordingly, the transferred cases, appeal, and writ petitions are disposed of with No costs.
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