Higher level of knowledge empowers financially challenged, Delhi HC in NEET judgment

The Delhi High Court recently struck down a regulation that disqualified recognized open school board candidates for selection and appearance in the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET).

The Court came to this conclusion while adjudicating a batch of writ petitions challenging certain provisions of the Regulation on Graduate Medical Education (Amendment), 2017 on NEET.

The regulation disqualifying open school students was challenged primarily on three grounds:

  • That the proviso infringes fundamental right to practice any profession guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) read with clause (6), Article 21 and Article 14 of the Constitution.
  • The prior sanction granted by the Union of India is vitiated on account of lack of application of mind.
  • Thirdly, the proviso has been given retrospective effect in the sense that the sudden change would adversely affect students who had taken admission in NIOS/open school Boards and were earlier eligible are now disqualified.

The stand of the Medical Council of India (MCI) was that open school students do not undergo school education through face-to-face mode and thus they do not undergo regular, co-terminus, simultaneous teaching and training in Physics, Chemistry and Biology with two years of study with practicals.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, had however, supported the petitioners, and were opposed to the proviso disqualifying candidates who had completed 10+2 from open schools.

The Division Bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Chander Shekhar observed that the impugned proviso must satisfy the twin requirements of reasonableness and interest of general public.

“The Court must ensure and strike a balance between freedom guaranteed under different sub-clauses of clause (1) of Article 19 and the social control permitted in terms of clauses 2 to 6, for the limitation imposed for enjoyment of the right should not be arbitrary or in this case excessive and beyond the interest of general public.

The restriction must have reasonable relationship and nexus with the object, which the legislation seeks to achieve and must not be disproportionate to that object.”

The Bench observed that the MCI proceeded on the assumption that students/candidates who do not attend regular schools because of financial hardship and social reasons, are inferior and less deserving.

“Such presumptions must be resoundingly rejected as contrary to the constitutional ethos and would clearly violate both Article 14 and right to opportunity to acquire professional degree. 

Contention of the MCI, if accepted, would be contrary to Article 41, Directive Principles of the State Policy and also Articles 15(4) and (5) of the Constitution.”

While striking down the said regulation, the Court held that disqualification of students of open school board would not meet the constitutional standard of reasonableness and the test of interest of general public.

The Court also made important observations about the power of knowledge especially to the economically weaker sections.

“Higher level of knowledge is liberating, enabling and empowering to those who suffer from prejudice and are financially challenged. Efforts have to be made and law must permit inclusion and not exclusion of such persons from portals of knowledge.”

The petitions had also challenged the age bar of 25 years (for general category) and 30 years (for reserved category). However, the said age limits were held to be valid and legal by the Court.

Source : Bar and bench

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