Education

Will revisit EWS criteria: Govt tells SC

Krishnadas Rajagopal NEW DELHI | Updated on November 25, 2021

‘NEET counselling will be deferred for four weeks till a decision is taken on the quota’

The government on Thursday informed the Supreme Court that it has taken a “considered decision” to revisit the criteria for determining Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) to provide them reservation.

The Union government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, said it would take four weeks for the exercise.

The government’s submission follows repeated grilling by the court during hearings to reveal the rationale behind picking exactly ₹8 lakh as the annual income limit to identify EWS.

“The Union government has taken a considered decision 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,” a Bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud recorded in its order.

‘To defer counselling’

The court was hearing a case filed by NEET aspirants challenging a July 29 notification announcing 27 per cent quota to OBCs and 10 per cent reservation to EWS in the All India Quota (AIQ). The government assured the court that the NEET counselling would be deferred for four weeks till a decision was taken on the EWS quota.

“The Solicitor General states that a period of four weeks would be required for this exercise (revisiting EWS criteria) and pending its conclusion, the date for counselling shall stand postponed...” the court order said.

The Bench scheduled the case next on January 6, 2022.

Mehta, appearing for the government along with Additional Solicitor General KM Natraj, said they have been instructed to submit that a committee would be set up to review the “criteria” to identify EWS category.

In a previous hearing, the court had even threatened to “stay the government notification fixing ₹8 lakh for determining the EWS”.

“You cannot just pick ₹8 lakh out of the thin air and fix it as a criterion. There has to be some basis, some study. Tell us whether any demographic study or data was taken into account in fixing the limit. How do you arrive at this exact figure? Can the Supreme Court strike down the criteria if no study was undertaken?” the court had asked the government.

‘Filing affidavit’

In a hearing on October 7, the government had assured the court that it would file an affidavit on oath explaining the reasons and statistics which led to the figure ‘₹8 lakh’ as the annual income criterion to identify EWS among forward classes of the society for grant of 10 per cent reservation in medical admissions under the All India Quota.

The Supreme Court’s query was considered significant as the 103 Constitutional Amendment of 2019, which introduced the 10 per cent EWS quota, was itself under challenge before a larger Bench. The Amendment is under question for making economic criterion as the sole ground for grant of reservation benefits.

The court had insisted on the affidavit though Natraj urged it to leave the “larger” issue of what led to income criterion of ₹8 lakh for the Constitution Bench to examine. It may be recalled that the Supreme Court had earlier raised several questions about this criterion for EWS and made a prima facie observation that it appeared to be arbitrary, while hearing a batch of petitions related to NEET-AIQ.

Published on November 25, 2021

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