The Centre has braced itself for additional rounds of legal battle as it seeks a review of Supreme Court verdicts scrapping the common medical entry test and denying reservation in AIIMS faculty posts. However,even a quick glance shows the contradictory stands taken by the government in the two review petitions,revealing perhaps its compulsions,political and otherwise.
In defending the validity and rationale of the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET),scrapped by the apex court,the Centre has stressed that merit in medical education is indispensable even in the context of rights of minority institutions. It has raised this proposition to a constitutional status by claiming that right to life under Article 21 requires need for excellence in medical education,and hence merit should be the key. The government points out that these students will ultimately treat patients and so there could be no compromise on merit.
However,in a review petition against the Supreme Court order declining reservation in appointment of faculty positions in AIIMS,the Centre has taken a completely contradictory position. In this case it pitches for reservation in such appointments notwithstanding the fact that AIIMS faculties not just treat patients a reason it cites in the NEET case to make a case for merit but also train medicos.
In the AIIMS case,the government stresses inclusive growth,contending that all sections of society can come together only when a large number of reserved categories are brought into educational institutions and services. Batting for reservation for SC/ST and OBC candidates,it says that if they are not brought in large numbers,the reference to them as inferior would continue. In this petition too,the Centre seeks to take its argument to a constitutional position. It states that equality,as provided in the Preamble to the Constitution,can be attained only if a good percentage of candidates from reserved categories are allowed to be inducted.
While the governments contradictory views on the two cases may be interesting as such,they could also land it in a piquant position should both cases land up before the same bench. And they may well. Both the judgments were delivered by former chief justice of India Altamas Kabir,and now that he has demitted office,petitions for review may come before the same set of judges,to be decided by current CJI P Sathasivam.
Utkarsh is a special correspondent based in Delhi firstname.lastname@example.org