Context:

The Supreme Court ordered that the National Eligibility Entrance Test, or NEET, the single entrance exam for all medical colleges, will apply to minority institutions providing medical courses.

NEET controversy

  • As a single entrance examination to medical and dental colleges, NEET was first introduced in 2013.
  • But this exam was scrapped by the Supreme Court within a few months.
  • A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court revisited this verdict and restored it in 2016.
  • Over 9 lakh students have registered for this year’s entrance exam to study medicine across the country.
  • Christian Medical College, Vellore, which used to hold its own entrance exam, had challenged the NEET route for admissions, arguing that it violated the institution’s minority rights enshrined under Article 30.

Latest Supreme Court ruling

  • The Supreme Court ruled that there would be no exception to the law that lays down uniform entrance exams for all graduate and post graduate medical courses.
  • NEET would apply for both aided and unaided medical colleges administered by minorities.
  • The court said that there is no violation of the rights of the unaided/ aided minority to administer institutions under Articles 19 (1) (g) and 30 that is right minorities to establish and administer institution, read with Articles 25 which is the freedom to practice religion, 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.
  • Rights available under Article 30 (of the Constitution which secures the right of religious and linguistic minorities to run educational institutions) are not violated by provisions carved out in Section 10D of the MCI Act (Medical Council of India Act) and the Dentists Act and Regulations framed by MCI/DCI,
  • The colleges had argued that imposing NEET would violate their fundamental rights of religious freedom, to manage their religious affairs, to administer their institutions. They said the State was reneging its obligation to act in the best interest of minorities.
  • The court dismissed arguments made by the managements of several minority-run medical institutions, including the Christian Medical College Vellore Association that bringing them uniformly under the ambit of NEET would be a violation of their fundamental right to “occupation, trade and business”.
  • The right to freedom of trade or business is not absolute. It is subject to “reasonable restriction in the interest of the students’ community to promote merit, recognition of excellence, and to curb the malpractices. A uniform entrance test qualifies the test of proportionality and is reasonable”.
  • The Government has the right for providing regulatory measures that are in the national interest,” the order stated.
  • The three-judge bench, reasoned that NEET was introduced for better administration in view of several instances of maladministration by several private colleges. NEET is intended to check several maladies which crept into medical education, to prevent capitation fee by admitting students which are lower in merit and to prevent exploitation, profiteering, and commercialization of education.
  • Regulating academics and imposing reasonable restrictions to ensure educational standards was in national and public interest
  • Uniform entrance exams would ensure improvement in future public health by encouraging merit in furtherance of the Directive Principles enshrined in Articles 47 and 51(A)(j) of the constitution and enable the individual by providing full opportunity in pursuance of his objective to excel in his pursuit.
  • 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 to weed out evils from the system, which were eating away fairness in admission process, defeating merit and aspiration of the common incumbent with no means

Important Constitutional Article regarding the issue of NEET

  • Article 19 (1) (g) grants citizens the right to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business while
  • Article 30 relates to the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.
  • Article 25 provides that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health.
  • Article 26 grants that all denominations can manage their own affairs in matters of religion
  • Article 29(1) extends to all the citizens irrespective of the fact whether they are in majority or minority, the only condition being that such section must have a distinct language, script or culture of its own
  • Article 47 of the Directive Principles directs the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health as among its primary duties
  • Article 51 A(j) of the Fundamental duties lays down the duty to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavor and achievements.
Special rights enjoyed by religious minority institutions include:

  • Under Art 30(1)(a), minority institutions enjoy right to education as a Fundamental Right. In case the property is taken over by state, due compensation to be provided to establish institutions elsewhere
  • Under Article 15(5), minority institutions are not considered for reservation
  • Under Right to Education Act, minority institutions not required to provide admission to children in the age group of 6-14 years upto 25% of enrolment reserved for economically backward section of society
  • In St Stephens vs Delhi University case, 1992, SC ruled that minority institutions can have 50% seats reserved for minorities
  • In TMA Pai & others vs State of Karnataka & others 2002 case, SC ruled that minority institutions can have separate admission process which is fair, transparent and merit based. They can also separate fee structure but should not charge capitation fee.
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