The government has informed the Supreme Court that it will review the ‘criteria’ for determining economically weaker sections (EWS) for reservation in educational institutions and jobs.
The statement followed a set of petitions challenging the income limit criterion of EWS at Rs 8 lakh per annum. The case came in the context of admission to medical colleges through the NEET exam.
The government has introduced the EWS quota and OBC reservation in the All India Quota (AIQ) in medical admission through NEET. Moneycontrol explains the genesis of the EWS Quota and the ongoing debate.
What’s the case?
The apex court is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the government and a medical counselling committee notice issued in July, providing 10 percent quota for the EWS category in NEET admissions. According to the legislation ratified by Parliament in January 2019, a general category student or candidate whose family income is less than Rs 800,000 per year is eligible per the EWS reservation.
The petitions argued several issues like breach of the 50 percent quota threshold directed by a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, lack of study and justification on the EWS reservation criteria, and the government decision on EWS reservation in admission through NEET.
What is the Supreme Court order in this case?
Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, who represented the government with Additional Solicitor-General KM Nataraj, said that the government has decided to revisit the criteria for determining the economically weaker sections in terms of the provisions of the Explanation to Article 15 of the Constitution inserted by the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, 2019.
“The solicitor-general states that a period of four weeks would be required for this exercise and pending its conclusion, the date for counselling shall stand postponed in view of the assurance which was tendered at an earlier stage of these proceedings. In view of the above position, the hearing of the proceedings shall be listed on January 6, 2022,” the SC order read.
What is the All India Quota?
AIQ is the portion of seats in the medical colleges under the state that is given to the union government. States are required to give 15 percent medical undergrad seats and 50 percent PG seats to the Centre now. When the reservation for scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) was implemented in this AIQ, there was no OBC quota.
In 2021, the government conceded to the long-standing demand from other backward classes (OBC) for reservation in the AIQ and also included 10 percent quota for the EWS.
Authorities estimate that such an inclusion will benefit around 4,000 OBC students together in getting medical education both at the UG and PG levels and around 1,500 EWS students.
OBC reservation excludes people earning beyond Rs 8 lakh a year and called them the creamy layer. EWS too has a cut off at Rs 8 lakh. OBC experts argue that this should not be the criterion for EWS quota.
“OBC reservation needs to be seen by decoupling EWS reservation in the present NEET case. Since both the concepts are entirely different – OBC creamy layer is an exclusionary provision, while EWS is an inclusionary provision – the application of Rs 8 lakh cannot be the same in both,” said Shashank Ratnoo, a Supreme Court advocate and expert on OBC issues.
How are the medical students reacting?
Since the admission to UG (MBBS) and PG degrees hangs fire in the legal deadlock, MBBS aspirants as well as resident doctors seeking admission to PG degrees are faced with uncertainties. The Federation of Resident Doctors’ Association (FORDA) has called for a nationwide withdrawal of OPD services from November 27. Resident doctors are a key force in medical colleges and in medical service delivery.
What are the other criteria for EWS exclusion?
“Persons who are not covered under the scheme of reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs and whose family has gross annual income below Rs 8 lakh are to be identified as EWSs for the benefit of reservation. Income shall also include income from all sources i.e. salary, agriculture, business, profession, etc. for the financial year prior to the year of application,” according to a DOPT circular of January 31, 2019.
“Also persons whose family owns or possesses any of the following assets shall be excluded from being identified as EWS, irrespective of the family income: (i) Five acres of agricultural land and above; (ii) Residential area of of 1,000 sq ft and above; (iii) Residential plot of 100 sq yards and above in notified municipalities; (iv) Residential plot of 200 sq yards and above in areas other than the notified municipalities,” it added.